Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday March 2, 2024
R.I.P. Brian Mulroney
In the day following the death of a past Prime Minister I came of age to, I’d like to acknowledge the personal connection and admiration I have for him, a sentiment tinged with a sense of atonement as an editorial cartoonist who has spent decades skewering politicians, with Mulroney being one of my enduring satirical targets. While some editorial cartoonists relentlessly skewer politicians, even in the wake of their death, the humanist in me requires the occasion to be drawn in the form of a tribute for public service.
Pearly gates cartoons, often deemed clichéd, present an irresistible temptation for editorial cartoonists, who, despite mockingly acknowledging the trope, find it difficult to resist utilizing this well-worn comedic device when commemorating the passing of famous individuals. In my recent editorial cartoon, I navigated this trope by revisiting Canada’s pivotal federal election of 1984 within a celestial backdrop. I incorporated the infamous “I have no option” phrase uttered by Liberal leader John Turner during the heated great leaders debate, responding to Brian Mulroney’s inquiry about Turner’s approval of numerous patronage appointments made by his predecessor, Pierre Trudeau, just before Trudeau’s exit after 16 years in office. In my cartoon, this historical dialogue becomes a comical punchline in the afterlife, where the reunited leaders—Turner, Mulroney, and the recently deceased Ed Broadbent—share a jovial moment under the head caption “Disagreeing without being disagreeable.”
The Globe & Mail: Brian Mulroney, the last great prime minister
This celestial scene intentionally contrasts with a contemporary earthly tableau, depicting the present federal party leaders engaged in an uncivilized punch-up, spewing insults, vulgarities, and accusations. The dust ball featuring the heads of current leaders serves as a stark visual representation of the disagreeable nature of contemporary political discourse, creating which I hope might be a thought-provoking commentary on the evolution of political dialogue over time.
Returning to my personal connection with Mulroney, despite the polarizing opinions surrounding his name, I’ve always held a soft spot for him. My interest in politics began around the same time Mulroney was running for the leadership of the PC party. Growing up with Pierre Trudeau as the leader, there was a sense of fatigue and a hope for a fresh face in Canadian politics. Mulroney’s youth, charisma, and optimism appealed to me and millions of other Canadians, leading to his party’s historic majority government in 1984.
Throughout Mulroney’s tenure, I closely followed his successes and failures, viewing it as a case study during my years of interest in political science. I vividly remember the smaller scandal stories involving his problem cabinet ministers like Bob Coates, in change Canada’s Defence who had a penchant for visiting strip joints on foreign missions; John Fraser in charge of Fisheries and forced to quit over the infamous ‘Tunagate”; Suzanne Blais-Grenier, a low level minister whose spendy ways led to her removal; and Sinclair Stevens worn down and disgraced by a scandal over business holdings that lead to charges of a conflict of interest that he was years later cleared of. Mulroney’s team spawned many personalities who went on to greater fame, in particular, Premiers, like John Crosbie, Lucian Bouchard, and Jean Charest. There were several other heavyweights in Mulroney’s cabinet who already had honed executive skills, like former PC leader Joe Clark, and brighter members from his team like Flora MacDonald (Canada’s first female Foreign Minister), Perrin Beatty (later head of the CBC), Michael Wilson (later ambassador to the USA), Ray Hnatyshyn (later Governor-General), Erik Neisen (the crusty brother of comedian Leslie – how cool I thought that was), former Toronto mayor David Crombie, and even an old Diefenbaker Minister George Hees. It became evident that regardless of cabinet or his own actions, he would always be despised by a certain sector of the population. Some criticize him for issues like the GST, selling out Canada to free trade, or the Airbus affair. I distinctly recall the ire he raised for daring to wear Gucci shoes, a bit of ostentation that pales by comparison to that which is on display by politicians of the present. That, and envelopes full of cash will be the only defining tokens of Mulroney’s legacy. However, others, including myself, recognize his early understanding of and actions against climate change, as well as his influential relationships with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, which played a crucial role in pressuring the apartheid regime in South Africa.
In retrospect, considering the Prime Ministers who followed him, Mulroney’s achievements stand out, and his dedication to the betterment of the country is evident in his legacy. It’s difficult for many Canadians to let go of their allegiances to one Prime Minister while despising the other. However, both Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau left significant legacies for the country. Trudeau gave Canada the Charter of Rights, and Mulroney brought forth free trade. Both had their successes and failures on the economic front and impacted national unity. Decades before Justin Trudeau proclaimed himself the “feminist Prime Minister” and prioritized elevating women to his cabinet, Brian Mulroney quietly and significantly surpassed his predecessor Trudeau by shattering the glass ceiling, achieving a notable increase in female representation well beyond the initial two appointed by Pierre Trudeau.
I met Mulroney a couple of times. My first encounter was at a rally in 1984 when I was just a nerdy 15 years old. Myself a few friends rode our bicycles across Hamilton to catch a glimpse of him. He exuded the same charm and charisma that I had seen in newspapers and on TV. I shook his hand, had a group photo taken, and listened to his speech about unemployment and the deficit. It was an inspiration to witness firsthand.
The New York Times: Brian Mulroney, Prime Minister Who Led Canada Into NAFTA, Dies at 84
Years later, in 2007, I attended a talk and book signing session by Mulroney. He looked good and spoke about his life with his familiar self-deprecating humour and blarney. These experiences further solidified my respect for him.
During my post-secondary school years in Ottawa, I studied political science and had a front-row seat to the theatre of politics, with the Peace Tower visible from my residence window. It was during this time that Brian Mulroney was in charge, and I often observed the behind-the-scenes dynamics during question period from the visitors’ gallery.
In those years, I also drew a cartoon strip called Alas & Alack, which featured Mulroney and his cabinet in a medieval monarchical system. It was a lighthearted way to satirize and comment on the political landscape at the time.
As I grew older and worked as an editorial cartoonist, I saw Mulroney stumble with the Airbus affair but also witnessed his efforts to repair his legacy. He continued to advise and inspire politicians, including his own daughter Caroline, who sits in the cabinet in Ontario.
Looking back on Brian Mulroney’s legacy, it is clear that he was a giant in Canadian history. While opinions may differ on his achievements and shortcomings, there is no denying the impact he had on the country. It may be a long time before we see leaders like Mulroney and Trudeau again, and their legacies will continue to shape Canada for generations to come.
Chronology of my Mulroney cartoons
May 18, 2022 – Battle of the Conservatives: Jean Charest leads the Mulroney forces while Poilievre leads the Harper forces
September 14, 2018 – Brian Mulroney blames Justin’s dad for Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful behaviour
February 3, 2018 – Caroline Mulroney is overshadowed by dad’s legacy preservation efforts
December 3, 2015 – Rona Ambrose receives advice on how to attract progressives
August 25, 2015 – Crowned Canadian Prime Ministers features insulated Stephen Harper
December 10, 2013 – Stephen Harper and former Prime Ministers unite for Nelson Mandela memorial
July 15, 2009* – Jean Chretien sweeps Queen Elizabeth off her feet to much head scratching from the Prime Ministers club
May 22, 2009* – Brian Mulroney leaves public life a la Richard Nixon
May 14, 2009* – Ruby Dhalla’s testimony is more popular than Brian Mulroney’s
May 12, 2009* – Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schreiber do battle…again
April 10, 2009* – Ignatieff Easter Bunny has treats for Mulroney, but not Harper
April 7, 2009* – Stephen Harper is pinned by Mulroney statue after reform attempt
December 14, 2007* – Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney have inverted statues
December 12, 2007* – House Ethics Committee ready for Brian Mulroney
December 5, 2007* – Karlheinz Schreiber celebrated as much as Brian Mulroney hated
November 29, 2007* – Karlheinz Schreiber to give hard-hitting testimony
November 15, 2007* – Brian Mulroney on bottom of investigation pile-on
November 14, 2007* – The Brian Mulroney $300,000 bank note
November 12, 2007* – Brian Mulroney is considered a bio-hazard
November 6, 2007* – Brian Mulroney, King Tut, and crumbling legacies
November 12, 2007* – Stephen Harper unzips mouth to announce review of Mulroney allegations
September 7, 2007 – Not So Great Debates: Brian Mulroney vs. Pierre E. Trudeau
March 18, 2006* – Where Former Prime Ministers go to retire
April 22, 2005” – Prime Ministerial addresses and their own ‘National Circus’
August 11, 2003* – Brian Mulroney considers crossing burnt bridge to USA for BSE talks
December 11, 2002* – NAFTA at 10 years old
June 13, 2000* – Mulroney drives through Joe Clark’s effort to rebuild the old Progressive Conservative Party
July 10, 1998 – Alan Eagleson awarding Mulroney the Order of Canada
June 16, 1998 – The appointment of Brian Mulroney as a Companion of the Order of Canada
November 19, 1997 – The RCMP terrorizing Mulroney
(* link to old website)