Aline Chrétien wife of Canada’s twentieth Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien has died at age 84. She left school at age 16 to support her family but always had a love of learning. She took correspondence courses while working as a secretary. She married Jean Chretien in 1957. After Chretien was elected to Parliament, she set about learning English and after that also learned Spanish and Italian. In her 50’s she learned to play the piano.
On November 5, 1995, an intruder, André Dallaire, broke into the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive, in Ottawa, Ontario. Awake next to her sleeping husband, Aline Chrétien confronted the intruder at their bedroom door. Seeing that he was armed with a large knife, she slammed the door and locked it, then woke her husband.
She and the former Prime Minister had two sons, Hubert and Michel Chrétien, and one daughter France Chrétien Desmarais. Aline Chrétien was been active in a number of charitable organizations over the years since her husband was first elected to the House of Commons of Canada in 1963.
Her husband sought out her advice often. Maclean’s magazine in 1996 listed her first among his most influential advisors, saying “Never mind calling her the power behind the throne—she shares the seat of power.” In 2000, Allan Fotheringham in the same magazine described Jean and Aline Chrétien as the two “most powerful” politicians in Canada, above Eddie Goldenberg and Jean Pelletier.
Jean Chrétien has publicly stated that she was his key advisor. He once joked that Canada is run exclusively by women: the monarch, the Governor General and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court were all women, and Madame Chrétien was pulling the strings of the Prime Minister. He made similar jokes often, once telling a reporter that he did not know when the next election would be because he had not yet asked Aline.
She was always passionate about education and at age 74 she was named the first Chancellor of Sudbury’s Laurentian University, over 50 other candidates. The university board of governors wanted someone who would be nationally recognized and reflect Laurentian’s unique mandate as a bilingual, tricultural institution.