That which is actually funny -

That which is actually funny


Glen Pearson notes the laughter that accompanied Jean Chretien’s return to Parliament Hill yesterday.

Outside of Chretien, it’s really hard to think of our last really funny PM.  Oh sure, there was Pierre Trudeau, but his wit was so knife-sharp that it often left others with nothing to say.  His understudy Chretien, however, told the kind of jokes I used to hear all through the years at the various firehalls I worked in.  What was funny about him was that he was “funny” – that’s all.  At times his humour was brilliant; at other times it could be slightly cruel; and then there were those occasions when it actually became a pragmatic and useful tool for creating ease and bringing out some kind of consensus.


That which is actually funny

  1. And then there was the time he made a joke about how his office directed the PMO to pepper spray students who were protesting the presence of a dictator on their campus, who was there at the invitation of Chretien.

    • I think there were many – myself included – who never looked at him the same after that quip.

      On the other hand, you have to admit the whole golf ball thing on his first day in front of Gomery was pretty good.

      • the golf ball thing was brilliant Sean. it was truly funny in the best sense of comedy, and it was also just strategically genius. it absolutely reset the parameters of his appearance at the commission and, i think, more effective than anything bus loads of lawyers could do in terms of arbitrating how Chretien's place in the centre of the scandal was perceived.

        • You are being pretty generous, there, s&m.

          I'll admit that I did laugh at that scene, and if you limit the context to golf balls and other trinkets, sure, it was pretty effective. But at the same time there was an obvious bigger issue at play in that inquiry, and the golf ball joke could easily be taken as an attempt to minimize or downplay or dismiss legitimate concerns that somethings had gone badly off the rails. I didn't mind Chretien as PM too much, but I was offended by that dismissal of the whole affair, and I can see how folks who didn't like Chretien so much would be incensed by that remark.

          So yeah, sometimes he was funny in situations where it was suitable…other times, not so much.

          • I'd have to say the golf ball thing was fair game, in that Gomery had previously made the "small town cheap" dig about Chretien, which made his running an inquiry examining the government of the same man a bit dodgy.

            But ya, in later years his humour began to betray more arrogance and disconnection than everyman sensibilities.

          • Thanks for the reminder…I had forgotten about Gomery's "small town cheap" comment…and Gomery did make that comment before Chretien's retort? I suppose that is the context to which I was referring.

            Even though Gomery might have become too personally involved in the emotions of the inquiry, that doesn't take away from the rot that had crept in to Chretien's government; it needed to be dealt with, and without that rot we might not have PM Harper to take shots at. ;-)

          • that doesn't take away from the rot that had crept in to Chretien's government; it needed to be dealt with

            i wouldn't disagree in the least Phil, but there were many storyline in the saga by then, one of which was Chretien's personal culpability. as Sean correctly points out, Gomery had way stepped over the line in castigating Chretien before even the half way of the mark of the inquiry he was leading. that goes well beyond being "too personally involved in the emotions of the inquiry".

            while you are right, that those who disliked him probably disliked him more after the comment, amongst the rest of the populous i still suspect that it was effective at underscoring what a three ring circus gomery had turned his own inquiry into. that does not mean i endorse it, it just means that it was funny and tactically useful to chreten at the time.

          • Wrt Chretien's personal culpability…beyond setting the overall tone of how government should operate relative to political parties and friends in business and so on, I'm not sure that Chretien really had a lot of involvement in the inner workings of who was going to get what contract and how much of that money would then become a donation to a political party and so on.

            That is not to understate the effect that he did have, which as has been stated elsewhere, was to be generally dismissive and/or intentionally ignorant of the potential for wrongdoing.

            Of course, there are those who will maintain that Chretien (and to a similar extent) Martin should have known. I can accept that Chretien was mostly a hands off kind of person, and wasn't aware of all the day to day details. Similarly, just because Martin (in Finance) was in charge of allocating money, he wouldn't necessarily have known about each and every government transaction.

          • The golf ball thing was, to some extent, representative of Chretien's whole contemptuous attitude to the Gomery Inquiry. Part of what Chretien was doing there was trying to belittle Gomery and trivialize the inquiry. It's firmly on the record that Chretien thought the calling of the Gomery Inquiry by Paul Martin was a huge mistake, especially politically (and Chretien's acolyte Warren Kinsella has also gone on record repeatedly to argue this). And politically, Chretien may have been correct. But of course that ignores the morality and legality of Adscam. So while I appreciate Chretien's comic delivery, I can't get over the fact that he was trivializing stealing money from taxpayers and giving it to his Liberal buddies — which didn't seem to bother him all that much as far as I can see.

          • Agreed…..although I have to wonder if Martin sometimes wonders if he was adequately "rewarded" for trying to set a better example wrt how governments should attempt to expose internal wrongdoing and make changes to deal with shortcomings.

          • in addition to my comments above, I think that you also might be giving Martin more credit then he deserves. Martin's choices were also heavily invested in his desire political scores with Chretien, his own desire to secure power and not just attempts to better the system.

          • It is certainly possible that I'm giving Martin too much credit for being a fundamentally decent man…notwithstanding his long campaign to take over from Chretien.

            I do have trouble believing that launching the inquiry was basically an attempt to screw Chretien – while Martin may have grown to really detest Chretien over the years, I have difficulty believing that Martin is/was stupid enough to think that such an inquiry would ruin Chretien's reputation without recognizing the damage to Martin himself and the Liberal Party that he wanted to lead.

            But then I'm not a politician, so I don't know how they think.

          • As someone who worked for Paul Martin, I like the guy immensely as a person and agree he may not have received what he believes to be his due for having had the guts to call the Gomery inquiry. But it doesn't take anything away from the fact that he was a lousy prime minister and the time had come for a change of government because of rot in the Liberal Party, which had come to equate its interests with Canada's interests. The time may eventually come for Harper to step aside too. It just hasn't happened yet and won't before the next election.

          • Does your personal experience relate to his political days or his business days? If PM was too much of a "job" for him, at what level did he perform "adequately"?

          • political. He was a pretty good finance minister.

          • Agreed. I suppose those who were true fans of Mr. Chretien appreciated the laboured humour of that stunt, but I thought it demeaned both the process and Mr. Chretien himself.

    • Surely you mean his office directed the RCMP to pepper spray? The average PMO staffer (any PMO) wouldn't know which end of the spray gun to point away from himself.

      • oops — sorry, yeah, RCMP. Multitasking makes my IQ sad.

    • That was a good one.

      Of course, today, they'd just taser those punks.

    • A consensus developing at Maclean's? Andrew Coyne called Chretien a thug last night on the CBC. Paul Wells?

  2. There's a particularly funny story Mulroney likes to relate that ends with "must make ya mad, eh?"

    • Mulroney is a great storey-teller and, like all people with a good sense of humour, doesn't mind making fun of himself. Joe Clark is also quite a funny guy.

  3. One instantly recalls Chretien riffing off a joke then-NDP leader Alexa McDonough had made in QP about Pierre Pettigrew "shaking his hair a lot" but doing little of relevance. Chretien's riff was to say "well, at least he's not shaking like the leader about to speak next."

    It was a particularly cruel jab at Joe Clark the then-PC party leader who by rage or age seemed to shake involuntary in QP.

    Even the most cynical of hill wags, and one hopes perhaps Chretien himself, thought it was a low moment.

  4. While not an intentional joke, I do remember a joint presser with him and Clinton, when a reporter asked about the high amount of drugs crossing the border, which he misheard as "trucks". His response of "well it's just more trade, isn't it?" was great. Clinton bursting out laughing made it even better.

  5. Chretien is the kind of clown Canada needs in opposition right now.

    Now you can take that remark any way you want, but Harper needs a wise fool as nemesis.

  6. I don't miss Chretien at all, but I'll admit our Parliament would be better with more humour, particularly the self-deprecating variety.

    • I'd welcome John Crosbie back in a heartbeat, for that very reason.

  7. Chretien was/is funny because self deprecating humour connects with people while sarcastic wit both connects and divides. To the extent that he tried to connect, Chretien stayed funny.

    When the current prime minister tries to joke he invariably makes people uncomfortable because even if they share the premise of the joke they worry they might be next.

  8. "Outside of Chretien, it's really hard to think of our last really funny PM"

    I have little time for Mulroney but jeez, he's very very well known for being a really charming guy with a ton of jokes. Diefenbaker's sense of humour was rivaled only by his sense of grandeur. Trudeau wasn't funny, he was blessed with a press that thought everything he did was awesome.

    Glen puts his finger on it nicely, without realizing what he's saying, in recounting his firefighter days. I've noticed a distinct difference in public sector and private sector humour, the former not being bound by meaningful consequences. I'm not going to open old wounds but there have been a number of workplace tragedies, the OC Transpo shootings in Ottawa to name one, incited by the unaccountability of the union members who thought making fun of their co-workers for physical handicaps was just hilarious.

    Public sector unionized workplaces are miserable, the unaccountable union members vicious, and we need to ban unions as a matter of social justice.