I liked Brian Mulroney. He was just full of that rascally Irish charm. And a rascal he certainly was. Taking envelopes with large sums of money in hotel rooms from shady characters is not what one expects of a Canadian prime minister, particularly one who was highly successful in all of law, business and politics. But that was Brian.

He has been called Canada’s “greenest prime minister” and deservedly so. He secured an acid rain treaty with the United States; sponsored the Montreal Protocol, perhaps the most successful international agreement on the environment; made Canada the first industrialized country to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity; created eight new national parks and brought in the Environmental Protection Act. An impressive record. And, oh yes, he strongly promoted action on global warming.

Internationally, he marshalled support for sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime, a decision that took guts because two giants of conservatism, the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, were both opposed. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his sadness this week at the “passing of a leader who holds a special place in South Africa’s history.”

On the economic front Mulroney was a leader in promoting global trade, celebrated (and criticized) for the Canada-U.S. trade deal and its expansion to Mexico.

Ultimately, his economic policies helped bring down the party he had taken to its peak. Aside from the free trade agreement, he introduced the GST which was hugely unpopular and, along with a recession and the Reform Party eating into the Conservative’s Western base, his popularity, and his party’s, plummeted. He handed the ruins over to poor Kim Campbell and left the political stage. Unlike some politicians, he knew when to quit.

His party never recovered, eventually being devoured by the Alberta version of conservatism which had little use for the “progressive” and dropped it from the title—and largely from its policies—becoming just the Conservative Party of Canada.

Regardless of his party’s fortunes, Mulroney made his mark and continues to be held in high regard by opponents as well as supporters. Our current prime minister was effusive in his remarks, saying Mulroney had a “role in building the modern, dynamic, and prosperous country we all know today…. He was an extraordinary statesman. And he will be deeply, deeply missed.”

I’m not sure I can be quite as generous, but I liked the guy. He was a Conservative at a time when conservatives were conservationists, when they were leaders on human rights, when they respected their opponents and were respected by them. That was progressive conservatism, like Brian Mulroney, to be missed.

2 thoughts on “Brian Mulroney—a consequential leader”
  1. Best overview I’ve heard/seen, Bill, since that was my ‘grappling-with-raising- teenagers ‘ stage of life, when chunks of the larger outside society/world tend to pass one by on the periphery!

  2. As a progressive, and tended to focus on Mulroney’s errors and excesses while he was Prime Minister rather than his achievements. The exception here was his hugely important role in creating the the international consensus on the need to end apartheid. As an environmentalist, I didn’t give him his due related to his accomplishments on that front.
    Looking back in hindsight, his extraordinary capacity to build friendships across party lines and in understanding the importance of sustaining local communities across our vast country, were also critically important. One last thing worth noting is that he never shied away from or disowned the need and value of raising taxes to pay for the things people and communities need. There were more than a hundred tax increases during his two terms, and the investments they funding made a lasting contribution to the Canada we were able to create.

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