By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Prime ministers on a plane: Harper, predecessors together for Mandela tribute
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his predecessors — Jean Chrétien, Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell — sat in close quarters as they winged their way to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
ABOARD ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FORCE 001—Even after his death, Nelson Mandela has done what no one else seemingly could — bring Canada’s past-and-present political leadership together, in one space, for a single cause — if only for a few hours.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and three of his predecessors — Jean Chrétien, Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell — sat in close quarters as they winged their way to South Africa late Sunday in the elaborate front cabin of a government Airbus.
But not just any aircraft. The leaders were headed to pay their respects to Mandela comfortably seated in what Chrétien once non-affectionately dubbed the “Taj Mahal,” a reference to the front stateroom with which the plane was retrofitted when Mulroney bought a fleet of the jetliners during his time in office.
Now, however, the animosity of the past was gone, at least on the surface.
“I’m not a grumpy politician anymore,” Mulroney said with a smile as he spoke of the significance of being in such close proximity with his former rivals.
“I’m a statesman now,” he laughed.
As he took one of his trademark strolls to the back of the plane, Chrétien openly lamented that he never used this particular aircraft during his three terms in office, expressly because of the fleecing he gave Mulroney to paint him as a free spending politician with a taste for Gucci style.
Chrétien also expressed his disappointment that Canada doesn’t put its former prime ministers to work for the country’s betterment and to promote international relations after they leave office.
“It’s not our tradition,” Chrétien told the three reporters accompanying the prime ministers, former governors general, premiers and other dignitaries on the journey to Johannesburg.
“And it’s too bad,” he said.
It was a less-than-subtle point that highlighted the tug-of-war style of Canadian politics as the two former PMs reflected on Mandela’s unique consensus-building abilities.
When Mandela was released from custody after 27 years in prison, many a pundit has noted that he could have launched his country into civil war.
Instead, he chose the path of peace, and eventually saw South Africa’s apartheid regime crumble.
As the Canadian delegation flew over the Atlantic Ocean, just prior to refuelling in Cape Verde, Harper spoke briefly of Canada’s role in ensuring Mandela’s release from prison.
“It really tells you about the long and leading history of Canada from the days of Mr. (John) Diefenbaker on, and the struggle that defined Nelson Mandela’s life — the struggle against apartheid and the transition of South Africa to a modern, non-racial state,” Harper said, flanked by Chrétien to his right and Mulroney and Campbell sitting across from him at the stateroom’s wood grain table.
“It’s something we should all be very proud of and I’m greatly honoured to be joined by Mr. Mulroney, Mrs. Campbell and Mr. Chrétien as well as Mr. (Joe) Clark who will join us when we reach South Africa.” (Source: The Toronto Star)