Former PM Chretien named to Queen's Order of Merit

Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien arrives at a hotel to meet Liberal leader Stephane Dion in Brampton, Ontario, October 10, 2008. REUTERS/Shaun Best

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien became a member of Britain’s Order of Merit on Monday, an exclusive grouping that has included General Dwight Eisenhower, Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, who is also Canada’s head of state, made the appointment to the order, an honor awarded to “individuals of exceptional distinction in the arts, learning, sciences and other areas such as public service”.

Chretien, Liberal prime minister from 1993 to 2003, was a political scrapper who called himself the “little guy from Shawinigan” and won three successive majority governments. Shawinigan is an industrial city in French-speaking Quebec.

The Queen decides on the awards as a personal choice, rather than on the advice of the British government, and in Chretien’s case it was because of a relationship that extended back into the 1960s.

“She had a very personal affinity for Chretien,” Mel Cappe, who served as Canada’s top civil servant under Chretien and also as Canadian high commissioner in London, told Reuters.

The Canadian government announced on Sunday that the Queen would visit Canada in 2010.

Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Peter Galloway