Brian Mulroney 1939-2024

After Robert Stanfield announced in the summer of 1975 that he was stepping down, potential candidates for his job as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party bestirred themselves. Brian Mulroney, one of the party’s very few high-profile stalwarts in Quebec, began calling me at home every Sunday afternoon. The reason was not to seek my support but to read me his draft of a possible speech, opinion piece, or policy proposal and ask for comment.
Mulroney ran for leader in 1976 but lost to Joe Clark. That must have hurt, but Mulroney kept his curses close. While Mulroney served as president of Iron Ore Co. of Canada, he’d hold meetings in a private dining room at Montreal’s Mount Royal Club, plotting his revenge. After Clark lost the government in 1980 and battled grimly to keep his post, Mulroney worked so hard behind the scenes to oust Clark that he almost befouled his own future.
As former party president Dalton Camp told me, Camp said to Mulroney in 1982: “You’re being measured for a shroud.” Only then did Mulroney declare public peace, but let his loyalists engineer Clark’s downfall, leading to the 1983 leadership convention won by Mulroney.
A few days after Mulroney’s 211-seat electoral victory in 1984, I received a call from Sam Wakim, a lawyer and best friend of Mulroney since their university days at St. Francis Xavier. Wakim asked if I’d like to be Mulroney’s press secretary. I turned him down, saying I’d been press secretary to Stanfield and didn’t want to go back to Ottawa.
I much preferred my role as a journalist and was among the first to conduct a sit-down interview with Mulroney as prime minister, in my case early in 1985 on assignment for Fortune. Of Canada, asked Mulroney in the article that ran in a March issue, “Who wants to buy it? What is there so compellingly attractive about Canada that causes us to think that anybody is going to rush in simply because somebody says, ‘I’d like to do business with you.’”
On a personal basis, Mulroney honestly cared about the sufferings of others. I can’t count the number of people who told me over the years that they heard from Mulroney after some personal illness or a death in their family. But those winning skills came with a weakness. While he would back a friend in a manner that was almost tribal, he never forgave an enemy. Most caucus members who failed to support him for the leadership fared poorly at his hand during his years in office.
But Mulroney healed a political party that had feuded for twenty years. His electoral victories in 1984 and 1988 yielded the first back-to-back majorities by any Tory leader in the twentieth century.
Moreover, he reinvented Canada. He tackled abuse of social programs, privatized government agencies, and launched the goods and services tax to reduce the deficit. He also pushed business to be less reliant on government largesse and instead break into new markets through the Canada-U.S free trade agreement. As with all politicians, he wanted to be liked, but he was willing to do the unpopular.
There’s just that one thing. After leaving office Mulroney accepted a total of $225,000 in cash from German businessman Karlheinz Schreiber during clandestine meetings in hotel rooms. Despite that failing, if Mulroney could, I’d be happy to take his call and hear from him one more time.

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