I’ve always held a soft spot for Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. It’s not easy to admit that when everyone and his dog wretches whenever his name comes up in the news. I gained interest in politics at the age of 14, just as Mulroney was running for the leadership of the PC party. For the first 16 years of my life Pierre Trudeau was my leader (except for the brief time when Clark was in charge.) So my exposure to Canadian politics was limited to listening to my parents and grandparents bicker about Pierre Trudeau. I can’t explain what drove them crazy at the time but I sensed there was quite a bit of fatigue for the man and quite a bit of hope for a new guy who was fresh, younger, less of an egghead, charismatic, polished, without the arrogance of office, and, to be frank, someone who wasn’t francophone. It washed off on me, as well as the millions of Canadian voters who handed Mulroney and his party the biggest majority government in history. I followed his rise and fall, his successes and failures, from beginning to end with great fascination. It was a case study during my years of interest in political science.
Currently Canadians are being served up the biggest exposure of the man’s life since he left office over 15 years ago, on the eve of the release of his political memoirs. The above cartoon pretty much illustrates the sentiment of the population. I don’t think it matters whether he trashing Pierre Trudeau or he’s singing the virtues of doing something about climate change — he’ll always be despised for whatever he says or writes from the vast majority of Canadians. It is therefore not at all surprising that there are very loud howls of outrage that he dare bring up the whole Meech Lake thing and how he thinks it was wrecked by Pierre Trudeau (who happens to be deceased and can’t defend himself, in case you haven’t been reminded about this by Trudeau sympathizers).
Is it really surprising to Canadians that the Meech Lake Accord, Mulroney’s near successful attempt to bring Quebec into the constitutional family wouldn’t remain a thorn in his side for so many years following its death in the late 80’s? Is it really that surprising that Mulroney would feel the need to convey his animosity for Pierre Trudeau, who alone may not have derailed Meech Lake, but may have influenced the Clyde Wells and Elijah Harpers of this country to do the deeds themselves?
Again, let’s remind ourselves that these are Mulroney’s official memoirs. Everybody knows Mulroney and Trudeau’s political adversarial nature extended to their personal relationships, and to not include some insight to that would be unfortunate for historians, and bad for book sales. If Mulroney felt Trudeau was a Nazi sympathizer it’s probably better to read it memoirs and take it for what it’s worth, even if it comes across as the rantings of a bitter man who’s become used to his legacy being overshadowed by his predecessor.
In retrospect it’s hard not to be reminded of the passions which we held in the 80’s. It’s obviously hard for most Canadians to let go of allegiances to which ever Prime Minister one felt more respect for. Either one worships Trudeau and hates Mulroney, or one hates Trudeau and worships Mulroney. Unless you’re a Quebec separatist or an alienated westerner, there really doesn’t seem to be any middle ground… yet. So the debate will continue being “who was the better Prime Minister?” and a generation from now no one will care. What will be agreed upon is that they both left big legacies for the country. Trudeau gave Canada the Charter of Rights, and Mulroney gave the country Free Trade. Both failed on economic fronts, and both did much to damage national unity. One thing that can be said about the two, is that they were both giants in Canadian history, and it’ll be a long time before we ever see their likes again.
* * * * * Update October 15, 2007 * * * * *
I paid $10 to attend a talk and book signing session when Mulroney swung by Burlington last Friday. I coughed up the $53 it cost to purchase the thick memoirs. The old PM looked good. He spoke to the crowd of 300 or so including Lincoln Alexander, newly elected MPP Joyce Savoline, Terry Cooke, and Mayor Cam Jackson. Mulroney spoke about his life from boyhood to leaving 24 Sussex and peppered the talk with his familliar self-depricating humour and blarney. Burlington was the last stop on his cross country tour and over the weekend excerpts of Jean Chretien’s book started making the headlines, especially the stuff about how he really feels about his successor, Paul Martin. I look forward to checking Chretien out if he takes is book on tour and swings by this area.