The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, 18th Prime Minister of Canada.
September 17, 1984 to June 25, 1993
March 20, 1939, at Baie-Comeau, Quebec, Canada
St. Francis Xavier University
His tenure as Prime Minister was marked by the introduction of major economic reforms, such as the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the Goods and Services Tax, and the rejection of constitutional reforms such as the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord.
Mulroney had not been involved in politics at any level prior to entering St. Francis Xavier University in the fall of 1955 as a 16-year-old freshman. He won several public speaking contests, was a star member of the school’s debating team, and never lost an inter-university debate. He was also very active in campus politics, serving with distinction in several Model Parliaments, and was campus prime minister in a grandiose Maritimes-wide Model Parliament in 1958.
In 1964, Mulroney joined the Montreal law firm now known as Ogilvy Renault, which at the time was the largest law firm in the Commonwealth of Nations. Mulroney twice failed his bar exams, but the firm kept him due to his charming personality. After ultimately passing his bar exams, Mulroney was admitted to the Quebec bar in 1965, and became a labour lawyer, which was then a new field of law in Quebec.
Trudeau had controversially appointed a flurry of Senators, judges, and executives on various governmental and crown corporation boards, widely seen as a way to offer “plum jobs” to loyal members of the Liberal Party. During the campaign in 1984, Mulroney demanded that Turner apologize to the country for making “these horrible appointments.” Turner replied that “I had no option” except to let the appointments stand. Mulroney famously responded:
“You had an option, sir. You could have said, ‘I am not going to do it. This is wrong for Canada, and I am not going to ask Canadians to pay the price.’ You had an option, sir–to say ‘no’ — and you chose to say ‘yes’ to the old attitudes and the old stories of the Liberal Party.”
Turner froze. He would repeat only, “I had no option.” A visibly angry Mulroney called this “an avowal of failure” and “a confession of non-leadership.” Many observers believe that at this point, Mulroney assured himself of becoming prime minister.
He attempted to appeal to the Western provinces, whose earlier support had been critical to his electoral success. For example, he moved CF-18 servicing from Manitoba to Quebec in 1986, even though the Manitoba bid was lower and the company was better rated. He received death threats for exerting pressure on Manitoba over French language rights.
The Air India Flight 182 bombing, which originated in Montreal, happened during Mulroney’s first term. This was the largest terrorist act before September 11, 2001, with the majority of the 329 victims being Canadian citizens. Mulroney sent a letter of condolence to then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. This caused an uproar in Canada since he did not call families of the actual victims to offer condolences. Many Indo-Canadians considered this to be a racist act because they felt Mulroney did not consider them to be true Canadian citizens as they were not of European descent. Apparently, there has been several warnings from the Indian government to the Mulroney government about terrorist threats towards Air India flights. Questions still remain as to why these warnings were not taken more seriously and whether the events leading to the bombing could have been prevented.
Near the end of his first term, Mulroney gave a formal apology and a $300 million compensation package to the families of the 22,000 Japanese Canadians who had been divested of their property and interned during World War II.
Also during his tenure as prime minister, Brian Mulroney’s close relationship with U.S. President Ronald Reagan helped result in both a landmark treaty on acid rain and the ratification of a free-trade treaty with the United States under which all tariffs between the two countries would be eliminated by 1998.
Mulroney’s second term was marked by an economic recession. He proposed the introduction of a national sales tax, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), in 1989. When it was introduced in 1991, it replaced the Manufacturers’ Sales Tax (MST) that had previously been applied at the wholesale level on goods manufactured in Canada. A bitter Senate battle ensued, and many polls showed that as many as 80% of Canadians were opposed to the tax. Mulroney had to use Section 26 (the Deadlock Clause), a little known Constitutional provision, allowing him in an emergency situation to ask the Queen to appoint 8 new Senators. Although the government argued that the tax was not a tax increase, but a tax shift, the highly visible nature of the tax was extremely unpopular, and many resented Mulroney’s use of an “emergency” clause in the constitution.
The environment was another key focus of Mulroney’s government, as Canada became the first industrialized country to ratify both the biodiversity convention and the climate change convention agreed to at the UN Conference on the Environment. His government added significant new national parks (Bruce Peninsula, South Moresby, and Grasslands), and passed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
On a personal note:
He is of Irish descent from his mother, Mary Irene, née O’Shea.
On May 26, 1973, he married Mila Pivnički. The Mulroneys have four children: Caroline, Benedict (Ben), Mark and Nicolas. Ben is a CTV media personality and a host of eTalk.
The family reside at Westmount, Quebec, Canada and Palm Beach, Florida, U.S.