Home > News and politics > Candid Chronicle: The Mulroney Perspective

Candid Chronicle: The Mulroney Perspective

12-Sep-05 08:22 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments
As is the case with Pierre Elliott Trudeau, everyone who knows anything about Canadian politics is likely to have an opinion about Brian Mulroney, Canada’s Prime Minister through the latter half of the 1980s and early 90s.  And a new book by the ex-leader has stirred up controversy in Canada’s increasingly intriguing political landscape: is he the unflatterring arrogant, opinionated man portrayed by one-time friend and ally Peter Newman in "The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister"?
 
I’ve typically found it amusing when I hear people claim special insights into the personalities of public figures they’ve never met, like "he’s an SOB", or whatever expletive suits the mood.  But it’s tough to hear that sentiment in reverse – when the public figure is the one making such seemingly tainted remarks about his peers in public life or making some very summarily dismissive comments about policies in which he had a hand crafting, but appears to take absolutely no responsibility for.
 
And now we’re to take the "hurt and betrayed" Mulroney’s ailing health and advanced years as reason to feel sympathetic for what he was able to achieve.  Well that’s easily enough answered – he chose public life and all the fun that comes with it.  If I’m going to feel sympathetic for Mulroney, I’m going to think of what he did achieve for Canada.  And the centrepiece of his achievements (assuming we can go plural on that note) would have to be Free Trade with the United States, which later evolved into NAFTA.  An agreement which, despite its notable problems, has largely done well for Canada by many accounts.
 
Having said that, it can’t help his overall historic image that such comments as "[Trudeau] didn’t want anybody to succeed where he had failed.  Trudeau’s contribution was not to build Canada but to destroy it, and I had to come in and save it."  Rehtorically, it isn’t hard to fire back by asking what he did on this front.  Did "saving" Canada mean opening up a constitutional debate nobody wanted and which the contry wasn’t ready for to say nothing of the approach taken?  One could easily suggest (and I do) that it was patently irresponsible to do such a thing without a sound endgame and that superficially it is not Trudeau whom history will judge of putting his own ego ahead of the nation’s welfare; but Mulroney himself – in a vain and fruitless effort to beat Trudeau at gaining Québec’s signature on the constitution.
 
But Newman’s chronicle of Mulroney’s apparently opnionated political litany doesn’t end there…it goes on to a frightfully "pass-the-buck-esque" segment where the nation’s last elected Prograssive Conservative PM points the finger at his successor to take the blame for his party’s demise at the close of his term.  Few in Canada who can recall those years would recall it that way, I’m afraid.  And everyone knows it.  As such, the conceit that all will necessarily conclude stands behind these remarks and his further suggestion of being the nation’s greatest leader since Sir John A. Macdonald (ironically, the first elected Conservative party leader) will only serve to hurt his image further.
 
Having said that, I’m not of the view Mulroney was Canada’s worst Prime Minster by any means although he might have ended up amongst the least popular.  I’m very conscious of the liklihood that those who harbour ambition for this nation’s most senior political offices might also be on the "high-strung" or even self-assured side.  Does this mean he was a bad leader or taint my view further of him?  No – nor should it.  Such things as personality might render as relevant during an election campaign where one worries about the kind of person and decisions their leader may take while in office.  For me, such things are less meaningful when evaluating their legacy – what they actually accomplished.  And its in that light I’ll be weighing the content of this book.
 
Indeed, Brian Mulroney should be unconcerned about the impact this book will inevitably have on the historical record becuase I’m guessing (based on studies done of past leaders in Canadian history while in a previous academic life) the minutia of opinions expressed won’t rank as high as what was actually achieved or as important as what those achievements contributed to the lives of Canadians afterward.
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Terry Glavin

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