'I AM CONTENT WITH MY LIFE’
Last week, Brian Mulroney ended a historic epoch in modern Canadian history when he announced that he will step down as Prime Minister following a June convention to select a successor. Dressed casually, he answered questions from Maclean’s Editor Kevin Doyle and Ottawa Bureau Chief Anthony Wilson-Smith in the private family quarters of 24 Sussex Drive, while Photo Editor Peter Bregg recorded the session. He was joined briefly by his wife, Mila, and that allowed Bregg to get the shot that appears on the cover. Excerpts from the two-hour interview:
Maclean’s: When your son Nicolas, who is now seven, is in university and taking a course in Canadian studies, how would you hope the textbooks will describe your terms as Prime Minister?
Mulroney: I think there will be two facets to it. One will be the factual side. Your father had never been elected anywhere and yet he went to the House of Commons as leader of the
Opposition and led his party to the greatest victory in Canadian history. Then he won backto-back majorities, the first such accomplishment by a Conservative leader in 100 years.
He kept the Conservative party together, with caucus solidly united. He captured a majority in the Senate for the first time in 50 years for the Conservative party, and he became the fifth longest serving Prime Minister in Canadian history and the only elected Conservative Prime Minister ever to transfer power to a successor. In political history you can be nice and decent and kind and all those things, but if you don’t win you don’t go anywhere.
What you see, surprisingly, in most of the leading journals today, from The Globe and Mail to The Gazette to The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal to the London Times, the general view is that this guy revolutionized Canada. He made profound and fundamental differences. I suppose then the question is, “were they beneficial?” And that’s when you have to wait for history, because only the
passage of time can tell you certain things.
Maclean’s: Will the Free Trade Agreement be your most controversial legacy? Mulroney: When Canada negotiated the Auto Pact in the early 1960s, it was unremittingly denounced by the NDP, the Canadian Labor Congress, the United Auto Workers, the Ontario Liberals, The Toronto Star and every left-winger in town. Well, it’s been a bonanza. It’s the backbone of modern Ontario.
But it took 25 years for that to emerge. So it could ver}7 well be that 25 years from now, when they’re having this tremendous banquet to celebrate the amazing success of the Free Trade Agreement, I’ll have trouble getting a seat beí cause [Canadian Labor Con| gress president and a vigorous g opponent of the FTA] Bob White g and [National Action Committee on the Status of Women president, also an FTA opponent] Judy Rebick will be saying it was their idea, (laughter)
In any case the changes are there: free trade with the United States, and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which will probably eventually extend to Chile, Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil. Those countries will form the richest trading market in the world by a long shot. And we’ll be at the centre of it. Tax reform and the GST will still be in place. History can look back on the privatizations, the low interest rates, the low inflation rates and the Meech Lake and Charlottetown constitutional rounds.
Maclean’s: What impressions have you
formed of President Clinton?
Mulroney: In our first telephone conversation, he rattled off all kinds of things that I had done and he spoke admiringly of the courage that it takes. He talked about the resistance that he expected to encounter from the special interests and about the problems that he was going to have with health care, and taxation and deficit reduction. So, he knew who I was. He knew what we had done.
Maclean’s: Did that surprise you? Mulroney: No, because only a fellow leader knows how tough it is to pull your party together as he did or, perhaps, I did. When we got to Washington, I spent about three hours with him. It’s kind of strange but it’s almost as if I knew him well. He began to ask me about the budget. I said: ‘I don’t know why you would worry about mistakes. Why don’t you talk to me? I’ve made them all. I can tell you which ones to avoid.’
Maclean’s: What qualities stand out? Mulroney: He has presence. Secondly, he’s got a good sense of humor. He knows the ups and downs. I mean, this is a guy who, a year
ago, was dead. And he knows that I’ve come back many times from the dead. He was a very good listener, which is unusual in politicians. And he had all the enthusiasm of a guy starting out.
Maclean’s: Would you favor the establishment of a permanent UN peacekeeping headquarters, with a Canadian in charge? Mulroney: It may turn out that way because we are one of the largest contributors to the United Nations and we’re one of the few nations that pays its bills on time. We have 10 per cent of the world’s peacekeeping forces. So, we’ve got a great deal of expertise and credibility. The problem is going to be financing it. It would also raise the question for the United States, of whether they would place their military under nonAmerican command. But I don’t have any doubt that eventually the United Nations will emerge as the overseer of all peacekeeping initiatives in the world.
Maclean’s: You were the first Prime Minister since Sir John A. Macdonald to get all the premiers to sign a constitutional accord—three times—but you still couldn’t get it through. Do you think anyone will be able to do it?
Mulroney: If we had been following the rules that existed until 1982, it would already be done. The 1982 constitutional deal was done before [Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal] government imposed new rules. That deal was not voted upon by any provincial legislature. It was not approved by a referendum. And it was imposed over the opposition of one of the founding peoples in Quebec.
On the Meech Lake accord, I got unanimous agreement twice. There were hearings in most, if not all, of the legislatures. There were parliamentary hearings and it was endorsed by the three parties in the House of Commons. I ran on it in the 1988 election campaign. Then, [Newfoundland] revoked the ratification and, as a result, we concluded a new arrangement. Everyone signed on again on June 9, 1990, and that document says that each leader will ratify it and/or submit it to a vote in his legislature or to a referendum by June 22,1990. That was not done. So, the 1982 restrictions had created a straitjacket. It will be pretty tough for anyone to get an agreement.
Maclean’s: Was there anything done in the process leading to the Charlottetown accord that doomed it to failure?
Mulroney: I don’t know. But Ernest Manning, when he was a senator in 1981, made a speech
a few days before the decision to proceed with patriation of the Constitution. This was a senator who had been put there by Pierre Trudeau. I’m paraphrasing, but Manning said: ‘Mr. Trudeau, I’m telling you, if you patriate the Constitution over the objections of the people of Quebec, you are placing a time bomb in the soul of Canada, which one day will explode and cause this federation enormous damage.’
Well, Ernest Manning was right. And every time you try to solve the problem, the same person who placed the time bomb there is out there shooting at you.
Surely, it has to be a crowning irony that the
man [Trudeau] who brought Canada a notwithstanding clause could argue against Charlottetown on the basis of the fact that it was imperfect.
Maclean’s: Your career and that of Joe Clark have been remarkably intertwined, and now they are ending at the same time. How do you relate to him now?
Mulroney: The American columnist George Will says that you repeat anything in Washington three times and it’s true. Well, same thing here. The fact of the matter is we’re the same age and we contested the leadership twice. Nothing wrong with that. What’s always forgotten is that Joe Clark’s victory in 1976 was made possible by my supporters. If I had said that I was going to support Claude Wagner, my supporters would have supported Claude Wag-
ner. Joe won by 65 votes. In point of fact, most of my supporters voted for Mr. Clark. He’s a person who I have a very high regard for, so I won’t get into the events of the loss of the government in 1979, and in the loss of the election of 1980.
Maclean’s: But you did take the leadership from him. That must leave bruised feelings. Mulroney: In 1983, he made the decision to have a leadership convention. I was victorious and I invited him into my government. People say that it’s nice that Joe Clark undertook to serve in Brian Mulroney’s government. Ted Heath wanted to serve in Margaret Thatcher’s government and she said, ‘Over my dead body.’ I had 211 members in 1984. I could have found an external affairs minister. But I wanted Joe Clark because I thought he was the best man for the job. And that’s why I kept him there.
Maclean’s: Is your relationship still strong?
Mulroney: In this house, unbeknownst to anybody I think, I had a luncheon for him on May 22,1989, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his becoming Prime Minister. I had his whole cabinet here. All of his closest friends, and so on. He and his wife have been invited here many times. We are not bosom buddies. But I’m not bosom buddies with anybody because, quite frankly, when you get elected Prime Minister you put yourself out of that business.
Maclean’s: You have taken a lot of criticism in the media, including one vicious shot at your daughter, Caroline. How did you deal with that personally?
Mulroney: That was a horrifying and degrading incident. Having said that, let me tell you that that is not an accurate reflection of the Canadian media. I learned a long time ago that you can’t argue with people who buy ink by the barrel and paper by the ton. But that’s OK. I’ll give you an illustration of what can happen. Globe and Mail columnist Michael Valpy is probably one of my biggest foes ideologically, and he has indicated publicly that he wouldn’t vote for me if I were leader in a one-party state. But when that vile piece of trash was published about my daughter, one of the few journalists in Canada who arose immediately to her defence was Michael Valpy. And I thought he brought honor to the journalistic profession. I told him, ‘Michael, for what you’ve done for my daughter, you can pound the bejeezuz out of me for as long as you want and you’ll never hear a word of criticism.’ Maclean’s: How would you characterize the
reaction to your decision to step down ? Mulroney: People are saying: ‘OK, the battle’s over. Let’s get one thing clear right now. This guy has been running one of the most radical and constructive governments in the history of Canada—if not the most.’ All of a sudden people give you the benefit of the doubt for the first time in 10 years.
Maclean’s: Is the increasingly personal scrutiny by the media going to make it harder to get people into politics?
Mulroney: I don’t think so. I don’t think there is anything you can do about it. It is an absolutely extraordinary phenomenon. You turn on a
television set and there is somebody describing you and your wife. And I say, ‘Honey, who is this guy?’ She says, ‘I don’t know.’ This is the latest expert on Brian Mulroney. He’s even written a book. No one knows who he is. There’s not a footnote in there. There’s not a quote. There’s not a source that’s not anonymous. This is journalism?
But what are you going to do? Take Peter Mansbridge, for example, who knows me, and Pamela Wallin who knows me. I just use them as examples. They will interview somebody who doesn’t know me and say: ‘Oh, is that right. He was really like that when he was 11? And what was he like when he was 3V2?’ This is a guy who has never met anybody. I’ve never spoken to him. My wife’s never spoken to him. But it’s like paying your income tax—it’s not a very pleasant thing to do, but you have got to have a free press.
Maclean’s: Is part of the problem a gulf in understanding that has opened up between the media and politicians?
Mulroney: Yes. I can remember, for exam-
ple, going to Press Gallery dinners as a much younger man. We would have a good night, sing songs, chat with everybody, talk it up. Everybody gossiped a blue streak; it was a fun evening. Now, these same people will go across the street rather than shake hands with you because you’re a politician and they don’t want to compromise their journalistic integrity. And so they will operate out of sheer ignorance rather than know something about what’s going on. I don’t think that, for example, you could go to a cabinet minister’s home, have dinner with him and thereby sell your soul. Or that you would lose your journalistic
independence because you came here and had a cup of coffee with me or whatever. But, what happens is that if there is an attempt made for fairness the kneecappers in the press corps would intimidate you. So, you, as an honest journalist, having to put up with attacks from your own colleagues, would say: ‘Life’s too short. To hell with it.’ I think the respected and independent journalists tell them all to go fly a kite.
Maclean’s: In the House of Commons, the exchanges are, by definition, highly partisan. But are there Opposition MPS who impress you? Mulroney: There are some good people over there. Paul Martin is an extremely credible front-bencher for the Liberals. I’ll tell you somebody who is very, very good—and he’s not being used—and that is Doug Young, the Liberal MP from New Brunswick. I also think of Marcel Prud’homme, Liberal MP from Montreal, Lome Nystrom, the NDP MP from Saskatchewan and, I mean, even my old pal Svend Robinson, the NDP member from British Columbia. Svend, in parliamentary terms, is very
effective. His stridency from time to time kills off his effectiveness.
Maclean’s: Will you get the NAFTA through Parliament before you leave?
Maclean’s: And then what?
Mulroney: I will be going back to Montreal. I will be associated, no doubt, with a law firm because that’s my profession, and I will be involved in business here and around the world. I’m going to resume two things that I enjoyed a great deal. One is an association with both St. Francis Xavier and Laval universities, and the other is something that I enjoyed a great deal in Montreal and that was the charitable endeavors that I was associated with. And I’m going to, I guarantee you, I’m am going to be at the Forum every Saturday night with Nicolas and Mark. We won’t miss a game. I will miss very few of the Expos’ games. They’re coming along fine and I’m going to help them out. (laughter) And I’m going to put up my feet and be a statesman. And I guarantee you, I ain’t going to watch Question Period.
Maclean’s: If, say, in the next few years, the country is facing a major crisis and people come knocking at your door, could you be persuaded to get back into politics? Mulroney: No. I’ll be happy to help out anyway that anyone thinks that I can. In fact, I’m going to stay as a member of Parliament and help out the new leader until the election writs are issued. I’ll be in the election campaign helping the new prime minister in whatever way he or she wants. And when it’s done, I’ll be in Montreal, and if I can be of any assistance, I’ll provide it; but not in any other capacity than as a former prime minister trying to be of help. I tell you what I won’t do. There are no circumstances under which I would ever seek, publicly or privately, to undermine the honorable efforts of any of my successors on any matter relating to national unity. Ever.
Anyone who has served in this job knows how difficult it is to get unity. Every effort towards unity should be treated with all of the importance and the delicacy that it deserves. Whoever the prime minister is in five, 10,15, 50 years from now, if I’m still living, if that prime minister is dealing with the question of national unity, I will be on side.
Maclean’s: Why do you think Pierre Trudeau opposed your efforts as Prime Minister to get constitutional agreements?
Mulroney: One school of thought, widely held in Quebec, is that he failed himself in 1982 to get unity. And he is resolved to make certain that no one succeeds where he failed. The challenge of Canada has always been for the federal government to develop a consensus that includes the English-speaking provinces and Quebec. I don’t know what Trudeau’s thought process is and I really couldn’t care very much. He was a leader of a political party opposed to me. He is still opposed to me on everything from Free Trade to tax reform to the Constitution.
Maclean’s: In looking back on your political career, are there human encounters that you remember as particularly significant? For ex-
ample, did you play a role in getting David Milgaard released from prison?
Mulroney: I had an encounter with Joyce Milgaard. I won’t go beyond that, except to say that it showed me a prime minister’s capacity to do good for one person. Now, some people might wonder who the hell is David Milgaard. Well, I’ll tell you who he is. He’s Joyce Milgaard’s son and we’re all somebody’s son. And there can’t be anything worse in this world, in a civilized society, than for a parent to know that your child is imprisoned unlawfully or improperly, without the necessary means to address the problem. Maclean’s: Are there other personal initiatives that you will remember?
Mulroney: I also think of our redress of the Japanese-Canadian community, which has been refused for 45 years, and of the whole issue of Nazi war crimes.
People living in Canada who committed war crimes against Jews in Nazi Germany are being ferreted out, and now we are able to prosecute them.
We were also able to provide linguistic constitutional equality for the Acadian people in New Brunswick, to appoint a Métis in Manitoba as a lieutenant-governor and Lincoln Alexander as the first black lieutenant-governor of Ontario. I’ve had a profound feeling of being able to do those kinds of things that incrementally build a more tolerant society. It wasn’t a big cathedral but it was a small contribution to a wing.
Maclean’s: Many leaders of the Tory party have failed at the job.
What does it take to be a success?
Mulroney: If you are going to be an effective leader of the Conservative party you have got to get rid of any malice you have.
You have got to be inclusionary all the time. You really have to think of your caucus and your party and your people. You have got to look after them. It doesn’t matter if you are at 70 per cent in the Gallup poll and The Toronto Star thinks you’re wonderful. If your caucus doesn’t support you, you are gone. And so, as a result of all this, you really learn a lot about people, real people. Maclean’s: At the end of the day, how do feel about the job that you have done?
Mulroney: I am happy. I am content with my life, with what I’ve tried to do. I’m under no illusions as to any of my public policy initiatives being confused with perfection. But I’m in good shape. My wife and kids are in great shape. Everybody’s healthy, thank God. The party’s in great shape. The government’s in improving shape and we’re going to have a new leader in three or four months who is going to win the next election. And I’m as happy as a pig in the proverbial.
Maclean’s: Then, why are you leaving?
Mulroney: I don’t know what comes over you, but all of a sudden the kinds of things that were important when you were 23 aren’t important when your 53. I don’t know if it is called perspective or if it’s called growth or if it’s called what. But it’s just there.
Maclean’s: When you told the caucus you were leaving, you referred to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Why?
Mulroney: I referred to his comments on the motives for public service. Why would we all do these things? Surely, only a fool would think that you do it for the money or you do it for the prestige. There is something in a politician
that’s probably a combination of ambition and ego, but it is also more noble than that. It’s a desire to serve. Some people are driven by a desire to try to make the country a little bit better. We don’t give people the benefit of the doubt in Canada. We tend to presume the worst of them. We suspect their motives. But in point of fact, they deserve the benefit of the doubt, and Emerson has written about what one does with one’s life in terms of making a child better or a garden grow or redeeming a social condition. You don’t have to be a hero to be a success in real terms.
Maclean’s: Why have you always placed so much importance on caucus unity? Mulroney: The caucus has become an extension of my own family. That might sound like tripe, but I can assure you it is not. The caucus and 50 cents won’t get you very far, but its absence will ensure your destruction overnight. In our system, a leader has to understand
that his bedrock, his foundation, is what he builds in his own party. And if he thinks that it’s anything else, like popularity or good headlines or a columnist writing nice things about him, he’s gone. And then you can’t do the things that you have to do.
You can only weather these incredible storms and these quite violent personal attacks if your caucus tells you that none of it is true. If you have to tell them it’s not true, you’re in trouble.
Maclean’s: How you would define leadership? Mulroney: You can only judge a leader in a parliamentary system by two criteria: if he wins on election night and if on Christmas Eve your caucus is still with you. If you do both of those things, you’re doing OK. Once you’ve won a majority and they’re with you, you can go down, as I have, to nine per cent in the polls and nobody bats an eye. So you can do a tough agenda and you can get through it. Maclean’s: What kind of legacy do you bequeath to your successor?
Mulroney: As well as we’ve done, I think my successor can do better, because for the first time a Conservative leader is going to be handed the keys to the kingdom. This woman or man is going to wake up after the convention and is going to think: ‘Well, isn’t this interesting? I’m going to waltz down to 24 Sussex Drive, Prime Minister Mulroney is going to open the door and he’s going to give me the key and he is going to give me a party that’s totally united.’ As of this morning, the party has $5.6 million in cash. And we don’t owe anybody a single cent, and we’re going to have a lot more by the time the convention comes.
Maclean’s: Was that the way you planned to leave the job? Mulroney: I always said that if I ever got lucky enough to get this job for an extended period of time the frosting on the cake would be to inculcate the value of renewal in the Conservative party itself. When I was growing up we were told that we were losers because we couldn’t stay in office. The Liberals were the winners. We were made for the entertainment value we provided in Question Period.
Maclean’s: Did you decide to leave in part because things had come around once too often ? Mulroney: If you stay too long you get to think that the national interest is best served by your interests. And that’s wrong. So you have got to draw the line somewhere.
Maclean’s: How does the future generally look to you?
Mulroney: I’m curious about the future and I’m looking forward to it and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved. □