CANADA/AN INTERVIEW WITH THE PRIME MINISTER

MULRONEY ON HIS RECORD

December 21 1987
CANADA/AN INTERVIEW WITH THE PRIME MINISTER

MULRONEY ON HIS RECORD

December 21 1987

MULRONEY ON HIS RECORD

CANADA/AN INTERVIEW WITH THE PRIME MINISTER

What did Brian Mulroney tell his daughter when she became upset about an unflattering book portrait of her mother? Why is he determined to implement the free trade deal before an election? Why does he want American submarines in Canada’s Arctic? Those are among the issues that the Prime Minister addressed in a year-end interview with senior Maclean’s editors in Toronto last week. In the two-hour meeting on Dec. 7, Mulroney quoted former Libe/'al cabinet minister Jack Pickersgill to support his free trade arguments, assailed Canadian Auto Workers president Robert White for fighting the deal, castigated a journalist for criticizing wife Mila ’s $5,000-a-couple Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation benefit in September, 1986, and mounted a vigorous defence of his government ’s record. The highlights:

Maclean’s: Meech Lake, free trade and tax reform are an enviable record, but it doesn’t seem to rub off on you. That really must be a frustrating experience—especially for an Irishman. Mulroney: Well, not really. Mr. Broadbent, of course, leads the pack. I am second. Mr. Turner is a bad third. Yet the Liberals are in first place in the polls. The only thing that matters to me is: have we been successful in what we set out to do as a government? And in the six-month period from June 3 to Dec. 3, among other things, we had the Meech Lake accord, tax reform, the white paper on national defence, the western development initiative, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the debate and vote on capital punishment, the summit of francophone nations, the Commonwealth conference, the royal visit, the trade agreement with the United States and child care. During that six-month period Statistics Canada also reported that in the first three years of our mandate a million new jobs have been created in Canada. These big-ticket items are in place. They are going to attract the attention of the Canadian people at an appropriate time and we’ll do well. I just do my job and keep going. I’ve just seen too many dramatic swings in public opinion to pay any attention to it anymore. I used to, but I don’t anymore. Maclean’s: Really?

Mulroney: I have not seen a survey nor has the party. It has been well over a year since I’ve seen one, certainly over a year since I’ve seen anything from the party. It’s one of the myths that has

developed, that I’m somehow intrigued by surveys. I don’t see them and I don’t commission them. Maclean’s: In the United States, the private lives of politicians have come increasingly under scrutiny. In Canada, your life has been examined in detail, everything from the number of shoes that you may possess . . . Mulroney: That was an important word, ‘may.’ I appreciate it. Maclean’s: ... to your wife’s business

relations with her decorator. Does the public have a right to know about your private life? Mulroney: Members of the public have a right to know about my private life and a right to know, I suppose, anything that they think is relevant. I have learned that if you become prime minister, while you have tremendous opportunities to do good for Canada, no one drafted you for the job. One of the prices you pay is that your life, by and large, is an open

On conflict of interest. `We're just going to have t

book. Anyone who doesn’t understand that or has a problem with it shouldn’t be in the business.

Maclean’s: What do you tell your kids when the stories are hurtful?

Mulroney: The other day after school, Caroline was in a bookstore with friends from the Lycée Claudel [her private school in Ottawa]. They happened to be buying Christmas presents and one of the girls said, ‘Here’s a book about your mother.’ Caroline is 13, she didn’t know, and they began to look at it, and apparently it’s a book written by a woman in Ottawa which, to understate the case, is very unflattering. Caroline came home and Mila was sick. She said, ‘How could anyone write something like that? They don’t know Mummy. They don’t know what she does. She’s not like that. How

could anybody do this?’ And I said, ‘Well, you’ve already learned that this is part of the price that we all pay, and I am sorry that you, Caroline, have to bear a part of the cost.’ I think she understands. The others are a little young.

Maclean’s: Have you been treated fairly by the press, by the public in terms of your private life? Or are you getting more flak than previous prime ministers?

Mulroney: Oh, I think we’re going through a cycle. Look what’s going on in the United States. If you had told me 15 years ago that somebody would say to a candidate for the presidency of the United States, ‘When is the last time you committed adultery?’ I’d have said, ‘No, that’s not likely to happen.’ We’re going through a phase where the People magazine emphasis on the personal life of someone gains more attention perhaps than it did in the past. It would be interesting to be in the minds of some of these people who write so sternly and so viciously about others. What kind of home life do they have? What do they say to their wives and children when they go home after having, on the basis of a rumor, torn somebody apart? But they are not prime minister. You have to accept the fact that this is part of the way life is. I can’t spend any time worrying. I used to. I don’t worry about it anymore. Maclean’s: When did that happen?

Mulroney: About a year and a half ago. It had to do with Mila’s tremendous work on behalf of cystic fibrosis. I know the time she spends visiting hospitals privately and on the phone late at night with children dying of cystic fibrosis. She’s put me on the phone when I’ve walked in from meetings at 10 or 11 o’clock at night and she’s on the phone to a kid in Vancouver or Winnipeg. She keeps track of them all across the country. This is a cause with her. To have it ridiculed and demeaned by a journalist—one of whose own family died of cancer-struck me as being the ultimate and cruelest

irony of all. I couldn’t believe it. Maclean’s: How does she tolerate it? Mulroney: She’s a lot better than I am. She doesn’t pay any attention to it at all.

Maclean’s: Were you the one who was thin-skinned?

Mulroney: I used to be. I gave that up as a waste of time and a bad investment. Maclean’s: Do you think that Canadians have become much more demanding of their politicians?

Mulroney: Yes, and I think that’s good. One of the reasons that we have some political problems is that in the last election campaign the patronage issue took on a life of its own. We, and I, were slower than we ought to have been in appreciating the depth of the view that Canadians held following the last election. People are disappointed and I contributed to that. Conflict of interest [also] raises very serious problems. We’re just going to have to be as clear-cut and as brutal as we can. What is going on now is not good enough, and it’s not acceptable.

Maclean’s: You mean penalties and requirements?

Mulroney: I think so. If you’re going to seek election to the federal Parliament, you’d better be ready to open your life and your books to the public.

Maclean’s: A lot of good people probably won’t run.

Mulroney: A hell of a lot won’t run. You can be absolutely certain of that. Maclean’s: Going into 1987 you had a very clear set of priorities and you 've dealt with most of them. What about next year?

Mulroney: Tax reform has to be implemented. The trade deal has to be brought home to a conclusion. The economic summit in Toronto of the industrialized nations is going to be a matter of great importance—not only to Canada but to Toronto. And I’m looking forward to a year of growth and prosperity. When we get to the end of year four, we’ll take a look at it.

Maclean’s: There are some people who say we 're in for a recession at some point next year, or the beginning of one. What 's your reading?

Mulroney: We’re in for a period of ongoing economic growth. The OECD numbers, which place Canada at the head of the list in terms of employment growth of the 24 industrialized nations, are encouraging. We expect very good numbers next year. For the third consecutive year, the deficit will have been reduced. That’s the first time this has happened in Canada in 40 years. Since we were sworn in, the rate of increase in government expenditure in Ottawa has been kept to its lowest since the Korean War. The interest rates are down, economic growth is up, investment

clear-cut and brutal as we can ’

is up and the signals in respect to multilateral trade are enhanced by our trade deal with the United States. Canada is known internationally now as a good place to be, a good place to invest. So we’re encouraged.

Maclean’s: Did you underestimate the depth of emotions about free trade? Was it a mistake at the beginning of your mandate to appear in some ways to be so pro-American—for example, singing When Irish Eyes are Smiling with President Reagan?

Mulroney: Well, with regard to singing When Irish Eyes are Smiling, we both happen to be Irish and it was St. Patrick’s Day, and so it struck me as appropriate. It’s what I do every St. Patrick’s Day—with or without President Reagan. I listened to a commentary the other day by a journalist who attended this thing here in Toronto while the First Ministers’ conference was going on, the ‘We Are Going To Save Canada’ group. Presumably people in Baie Comeau or St-Tite des Caps or Kelowna are incapable of saving their own souls

or defining their own love of Canada, so someone is going to define it for us. Bob White, for example, is going to define the soul of Canada. This is the same crowd who 23 years ago was saying that the Auto Pact was going to destroy our culture in Ontario and destroy the economy of Ontario. The Auto Pact has been a bonanza for Ontario. Arts and culture have had a magnificent time. Why? Because sovereignty comes from a strong economy. Maclean’s: Are you prepared to build support for the trade initiative in the regions, and perhaps let the chips fall where they may in southern Ontario, where obviously opposition is strongest? Mulroney: No, the strength of the position comes from southern Ontario. I hold out Ontario as a tremendous illustration of what enlightened, liberalized trade can do. It is vital for Canada that Toronto and Ontario maintain this reputation and reality of an industrial powerhouse. It is indispensable that this kind of heartland be further strengthened, and that’s what we are trying to do.

Maclean’s: Will voters get a chance to pass judgment before it goes into effect? Mulroney: Well, I don’t know when the election is going to be. In the normal course of events, the trade agreement would be in place on the first of January, 1989. I don’t imagine it would have any miraculous effect the next day or the next month or the next series of months. This is something staggered over a period of 10 years. My guess is that it will be very much part of the next election campaign. People will be able to take a look at it and say yea or nay.

Maclean’s: In 1988 or 1989?

Mulroney: Whenever.

Maclean’s: But it would be after the fact? Mulroney: Well, I have a mandate for national reconciliation and economic renewal. That’s what I was elected on. And the economic renewal that we have initiated so far has produced the strongest economy of the OECD countries, and it is my judgment that liberalized trade is going to make us even stronger in the

next decades. That is why I have a mandate to do it. We have negotiated a deal which we believe is very much in the national interest, and we’re going to implement it. The Canadian people can, at an appropriate time, make a value judgment as to whether they think it’s good, bad or indifferent.

Maclean’s: The fearful might say that in three years you generated a million new jobs—all that without free trade. So if we are doing that well without free trade, why run the risk?

Mulroney: Because we still have a million people unemployed. We still have an unemployment rate nationally of 8.2 per cent. We’ve reduced youth unemployment by five percentage points in three years and yet our youth unemployment is still very high. And our regional disparities are very saddening for Canada. Maclean’s: While a lot of Canadians obviously want to preserve our links to NATO, they are concerned about the growth of the defence budget, and in particular acquisition of costly new equipment. Why is your government intent on doing that?

Mulroney: Because our predecessors surrendered sovereignty over the North, where we were unable to enforce the will of the government of Canada—and because we were perceived internationally as being less than enthusiastic supporters of NATO and NORAD. With the building of the Class 8 icebreaker in Vancouver, we are going to be able to patrol the Arctic for the first time. With the provision of the 10 to 12 nuclear-powered subs, we are going to have access to our own territory. The greatest sham that was ever perpetrated on the Canadian people was the view that we controlled the North. We didn’t control it at all. Everybody was up there except us. Ever since the Manhattan 20 years ago, people have come and gone up there pretty well at will.

Maclean’s: For example, the Soviets? Mulroney: For example, on a regular basis. What we are doing with our policy in regard to the expenditure of some $500 million for the most powerful icebreaker in the world is we are going to be up there exercising hegemony over our own territory. With regard to the nuclear-powered submarines, it’s the only way that you can get up there and stay there for an extended period because other subs do not have the power to do that. People talk about sovereignty but say that you can roll over and let the Americans do it.

Maclean’s: But there is a sense on the part of some Canadians that we ’re prepared to share the presence in the North with the Americans.

Mulroney: No. What we’re trying to do is to change a situation where the Americans were all alone up in the North with the Soviets, and the Cana-

On Mila’s critics: \She’s a lot better than I am. She doesn't pay any attention'

dians were absent. Maclean’s: How frequent were the Soviet missions? Mulroney: I won’t go beyond what I’ve said, except to tell you they were there and the Canadians were totally absent. That is one of the consequences of the tremendous negligence that the federal government visited upon the Armed Forces of Canada for over 16 years. Maclean’s: Surely we couldn’t possibly afford to meet the might of the Soviet Union or the United States. Mulroney: Not overnight, that’s for sure. We were once the third-largest naval power in the world, and we threw it all away. The Americans are our friends and allies. I’d rather have them up North than somebody else. But most of all we want to be there ourselves, and I acknowledge readily we can’t do it overnight. We have nothing right now.

Maclean’s: Won't you be the issue in the next election?

Mulroney: I don’t know.

Obviously a political leader personifies a lot of what is perceived to be good and bad about a government. You become the object of some pretty sustained, vigorous attack and some of it sticks. I led the Progressive Conservative party to its largest victory in history in September of 1984. At that time we got 50 per cent of the vote, which meant that at the moment of our greatest popularity, 50 per cent of the population voted against us.

Maclean’s: What about the critics who say you gave up the shop to the provinces in the Meech Lake agreement? Mulroney: Well, the critics have to be responded to by Jack Pickersgill, who for 40 years served four Liberal prime ministers in the cabinet and as secretary to the cabinet and as principal secretary to Liberal prime ministers. Jack Pickersgill said the Meech Lake Accord was a miracle for Canadians. Maclean’s: How do you bring back a real discussion of issues, a much more indepth discussion?

Mulroney: I don’t think you can. All you can do is introduce onto the agenda

serious matters that generate serious discussion. Whether or not it’s the insinuation of television into every aspect of our lives, there is a degree of captivation with the periphery of fundamental issues that entertain us and titillate us, and it makes a much better headline than a million jobs. It’s there and part of our national personality now. I don’t think anybody should be scandalized by it or be unduly upset. But Canadians also have a prism in their minds. They can distinguish between the trivia and the vulgarity, and the fundamentals. Only if you have gone through a national election campaign bearing the responsibility for a national political party, starting out farther behind than any other leader before in recent history, do you understand the true nature of what this country is about, what Canada is. The beauty of the responsibility is trying to bring it together, trying to harmonize it and make it a little bit better. That’s ultimately what is the greatest satisfaction for any Canadian prime minister, no matter his political party. □

On sovereignty: *The Amerieans are our friends. Td rather have them up North ’