Former prime minister Jean Chrétien says he was surprised but happy to learn Queen Elizabeth had awarded him the exclusive Order of Merit, despite his penchant for salty language and willingness to sing badly in front of thousands of people.
The former prime minister, 75, said he learned of the appointment about three weeks ago from the Queen's private secretary.
"I think that it is something that was not expected, but I’m grateful that Her Majesty offered that to me for the work I’ve done in Canada for 40 years," he told CBC News Tuesday from Shawinigan, Que.
Chrétien said he met the Queen on many occasions, including hosting the Royal Family for a week during the centennial celebrations of the Northwest Territories in 1970.
In his role as as Indian and northern affairs minister during the centennial, he stepped up to meet his patriotic "call of duty" during a ceremony in Fort Providence, he said.
The Queen and Prince Philip, along with their two oldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, were in the tiny hamlet to unveil a monument. Chrétien had to step in when the event's master of ceremonies was too shy to sing the national anthem.
"I went to sing and I start to sing O Canada but in those days, I was singing … in French and nobody came along," he said. "I'm a terrible singer. That's why my wife was so embarrassed."