Jean Chrétien: Fox or snake

Bob Plamondon’s Chrétien: The little guy from Shawinigan was Canada’s most fiscally conservative PM?

Two of the more intriguing animal ​protagonists in literature are the fox and snake. In Aesop’s fables, they’re often depicted as intelligent, devious, and crafty. In contrast, the National Film Board’s puppet film The Man, the Snake and the Fox (1978), based on an Ojibwa legend, depicts a heroic, intelligent fox outwitting a sneaky, dastardly snake. This was one of my first thoughts while reading Bob Plamondon’s The Shawinigan Fox: How Jean Chrétien Defied the Elites and Reshaped Canada. The former prime minister wasn’t an intellectual, an ideologue or a policy wonk by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, he played the game of politics better than most because of his razor-sharp, fox-like instincts and an uncanny ability to speak directly to Canadians with plain, straightforward language.

Plamondon doesn’t challenge this widely held view of Jean Chrétien. Nevertheless, he has contributed...