The Right Hon. Martin Brian Mulroney, 18th Prime Minister of Canada (1984-1993)
"The Boy from Baie-Comeau"
"So I've had my share of popularity. The unpopularity comes when you have to do important things. And I guess you have to decide whether you'll be popular, or whether you want to make to affect important structural change. I believe that what should be done, we should be conducting ourselves not for easy headlines in 10 days but for a better Canada in 10 years."
--Brian Mulroney, in a June 1998 interview with the CBC's The National
In his nine years as Canada's Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney may have done more to polarize Canadian politics than any one person this century. Much of the contentious legislation passed by Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives -- the GST and the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, for example -- turned out to have long-term benefits for the country, but these benefits were only realized after his departure...
The man who would become Canada's eighteenth Prime Minister was born Martin Brian Mulroney on March 20, 1939 in Baie-Comeau, Quebec. He attended a private Catholic high school in New Brunswick, then enrolled in Nova Scotia's St. Francis Xavier University in 1955. While attending St. F-X, Mulroney began toying with the idea of entering politics. He joined the Conservative Party shortly after arriving at St. F-X, and campaigned for the party in the 1956 provincial election. In a rather prescient event, Mulroney served as the Prime Minister of St. F-X's model parliament. He graduated with honors in 1959, earning a political science degree.
As aspiring politicians are wont to do, Mulroney went to law school. He graduated from Laval University in 1964, serving as the Vice-President of the Conservative Students' Federation and as a student advisor to Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.
After being called to the Quebec Bar in 1965, Mulroney spent much of the next decade practising law and working behind the scenes for the Tories. In 1973, he married Mila Pivnicki, a daughter of Yugoslav immigrants. In 1974-75, Mulroney served as special counsel to the Cliche Commission, a commission of enquiry struck by the Quebec government to investigate corruption in the construction industry.
After Robert Stanfield stepped down from the helm of the Conservatives, Mulroney threw his hat into the ring for leadership of the party. The race was wide-open, with Flora MacDonald and Claude Wagner the supposed front-runners. Mulroney used his business connections to raise a substantial war chest, but lost out to eventual (and unexpected) winner Joe Clark on the third ballot.
Following the leadership debacle, Mulroney took a position with the Iron Ore Company (a Canadian subsidiary held jointly by three American steel companies) serving first as the company's vice-president and later, the president. By no means had his ambition waned; Mulroney used the prominence of his position at Iron Ore to cement his contacts, gobble up press time and begin raising money for his next run for control of the Tories.
By 1983, Clark's popularity was waning. After winning the winning the 1979 federal election and forming a minority government, Clark's Tories were forced to the polls less than two years later after a bungled vote of non-confidence. The Tories lost to the Liberals in 1980, with Pierre Elliot Trudeau making his triumphant return. Clark faced a leadership review in 1983, and Mulroney pounced on the opportunity.
Leadership race and first term
The Conservatives had been doing poorly in Quebec over the course of the previous 20 years, never winning more than 8 of the province's crucial 75 seats. Leading up to the convention, It became evident that Mulroney was the only bilingual candidate from Quebec, which made him an attractive candidate even though he had yet to hold an elected office. His experience from the 1976 convention worked to his advantage, and on June 11, 1983, Mulroney was chosen as the new leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. That August, Mulroney won a by-election for the riding of Central Nova (which was vacated by Tory MP Elmer Mackay for Mulroney).
In June of 1984, Trudeau stepped down as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. His replacement, John Turner, became Prime Minister by default, and quickly called an election to secure a mandate. During the campaign, Mulroney proved himself to be an excellent debater and skillful at providing the media with ample sound bites to fill up the evening news. On election day (September 4, 1984), Canadians responded by giving Mulroney the largest recorded majority: 211 out of the country's 282 seats (and 58 of Quebec's 75 seats).
Mulroney's first term of office is marked by two major issues: the Meech Lake Accord and the Canada/U.S. Free Trade Agreement. With the Tories' massive majority, the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was passed in 1988, but only after much acrimonious debate. The FTA called for the repeal of many of the protective tarriffs between Canada and the United States. The Agreement became the precursor for NAFTA (more on that later). The Meech Lake Accord was a proposed amendment to the Constitution of Canada, negotiated by the "first ministers" (the Prime Minister and the ten provincial premiers) at a sleepy Quebec resort. In exchange for Quebec's ratification of the Constitution (something that Trudeau failed to do when the Constitution was repatriated), the remaining provinces would recognize Quebec as a "distinct society." To pass the Accord would require the document be ratified by the legislatures of all ten provinces. After a symbolic protest by Manitoba MLA Elijah Harper, who refused to allow the Accord to be introduced on the Legislature floor prior to its 1990 deadline, the Accord failed to gain ratification in Manitoba and Newfoundland.
On November 21, 1988, Canadians went back to the polls for another federal election. Mulroney's Conservatives were given a second consecutive majority (taking 169 of 295 seats), a feat that hadn't occured since Wilfred Laurier's Liberals won in 1900 (and hadn't been accomplished by the Tories since the days of John A. MacDonald).
Mulroney had work to do. He negotiated an enviromental agreement with the United States to reduce acid rain in 1990. The next year saw the passing of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), a national sales tax that replaced many of the hidden taxes that were levied on manufacturers. In order to ensure passage of the GST in the Senate, Mulroney appointed eight new senators at the last minute to obtain a Conservative majority. The GST nearly sparked a tax revolt, but concerns were partially assuaged when the first GST credit cheques began arriving in the mail.
When Canada joined the United States-led coalition to oust the Iraqi Army from Kuwait, Mulroney pressured Bush to gain the consent of the United Nations before using military force. In 1992, Mulroney and the new U.S. President Bill Clinton renegotiated the FTA in order to allow Mexico's participation. The result, NAFTA, created a huge North American trade bloc to rival the ever-expanding European Union.
Mulroney took a second crack at getting Quebec's signature on the Constitution in 1991 and 1992. A summit held in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island hammered out an agreement, which again sought to recognize Quebec as a distinct society. A referendum was held to gain public support for the Charlottetown Accord, with the majority of Canadians voting against it -- only 45.7 per cent of English Canada and 42.4 per cent of Quebecois voted yes on the matter.
One of Mulroney's last acts as Prime Minister was the series of negotiations that led to the formation of the new territory of Nunavut.
By 1993, the public's opinion of Mulroney and his policies had been eroded to a tiny nub by bad press over the GST, a recession, and Mulroney's failed attempts to bring the Constitutional Crisis to a close. Like all good politicians, Mulroney knew his time had come, and decided to leave politics. A leadership convention named Defence Minister Kim Campbell as his replacement, and an election was called.
The 1993 election illustrated how charismatic Mulroney was. Campbell was inexperienced and poorly managed during the campaign, and without Mulroney to keep the party coherent, lifetime Tories defected in droves to the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois. Out of the 165 seats the Conservatives held prior to the election, they only retained two. The party had fractured into two regional components -- Reform (later the Canadian Alliance) and the Bloc -- which split the conservative vote and allowed the centrist Liberals to win 177 seats. New Prime Minister Jean Chretien was elected partially on his promise to repeal the GST and to end Canada's involvement within NAFTA. He did neither.
In 1995, the RCMP began investigating Mulroney's alleged involvement in a kickback scheme with French aircraft manufacturer Airbus. Airbus reportely paid $20 million in kickbacks in order to win a $1.4 billion order from Air Canada. After a prolonged investigation, Mulroney sued the federal government for libel. He was awarded $20 million in damages and received an apology from the government.
Mulroney is still practising law in Quebec, and serves on the boards of several corporations.
John Turner ← Canadian Prime Ministers → Kim Campbell
First Among Equals, National Archives of Canada - http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/primeministers/h4-3450-e.html
CBC News - http://www.tv.cbc.ca/national/pgminfo/mulroney/
Wikipedia - http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Mulroney
Political Database of the Americas (1999), Canada Parliamentary Elections: Seats and Votes, by Province and Party (Internet), Georgetown University and the Organization of American States - http://www.georgetown.edu/pdba/Elecdata/Canada/canada.html
Brian Mulroney (Biography) - http://trulycanadian.freeservers.com/BMulroney_bio.htm
Library of Parliament, History of Federal Electoral Ridings - http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/process/house/hfer/hfer.asp?Language=E