Q&A: MILA MULRONEY

A traditional wife at 24 Sussex Drive

February 11 1985
Q&A: MILA MULRONEY

A traditional wife at 24 Sussex Drive

February 11 1985

A traditional wife at 24 Sussex Drive

Q&A: MILA MULRONEY

When Brian Mulroney fought the federal election campaign last summer, one of his chief assets was his stylish and enthusiastic wife, Mila. Unlike other recent Prime Ministers' wives—the restless Margaret Trudeau and the career-minded Maureen McTeer—Mila made a public point of putting her husband and family first. Last September she became the first Canadian Prime Minister's wife to occupy an office and employ a staff in the Parliament Buildings. Surrounded by family pictures and furniture from her personal collection in the three-room Langevin Block office suite, she was interviewed by Maclean’s staff writer Ann Walmsley.

Maclean’s: The wives of Canada's Prime Ministers in the past 20 or 30 years have all been very different. How would you compare yourself to your most recent predecessors, Maureen McTeer and Margaret Trudeau?

Mulroney: I never attempt to compare. We each have our own style and our own way of doing things. Times have changed, which has allowed us to be more flexible in how we perceive our roles. Maureen was a girl who started out in the party at 16 or 17 years of age. That enabled her to start at the grassroots and work to a higher level within the party than I have myself. I am much more a neophyte.

Maclean’s: In comparing herself with other prime ministerial wives, McTeer once said that she was the trailblazer because she established her own career and kept her own name. Do you feel that you are now a trailblazer?

Mulroney: No, I do not. I think Maureen made it easier for a lot of us to follow. I am very comfortable with the choices I have made.

Maclean’s: You are the first Prime Minister's wife to occupy an office in the Parliament Buildings and have an office staff. Whose idea was that? Mulroney: It really was not an idea. Brian and I have always worked as equal partners, and because we work well together and because what I was doing was very much an actual job, it just transpired. There was no actual thought process. While he was leader of the opposition I had an office in the leader of the opposition’s offices because there was a need. Now I have correspondence, speaking engagements and a need for extra help. That is why I have an administrative assistant and an executive assistant. There would be no office if there were no need for it.

Maclean’s: During the campaign your husband's advisers told you that you should wear fewer diamonds. What advice are you getting now?

Mulroney: You know, that is a myth that was propagated by my dear friend [columnist] Allan Fotheringham, and there is no such thing as ‘lots of jewels.’ No one has ever told me what to wear or what to say. I think Brian’s advisers were very comfortable with what I chose to say, and I really had carte blanche during the campaign.

Maclean’s: And now?

Mulroney: And now even more so. Maclean’s: The ‘Mila Factor' was a term adopted by Mulroney workers to describe the way you could work a crowd. Outgoing Ontario Premier William Davis even remarked to your husband, ‘Mila will get more votes for you than you will for yourself. ’ What is the Mila Factor?'

Mulroney: I do not know what the ‘Mila Factor’ is. There was the rapport I had with the people I met during the campaign. Maybe that had something to do with it. I think I have a fairly good memory for faces. Also, I remember things about people that I have met. Maclean’s: How do you feel the Mila Factor' has enhanced your husband's popularity?

Mulroney: Well, first of all, two people are a lot better than one as far as I am

concerned. There was a lot of territory to cover during the campaign. I was there as an ear and I listened. Maclean’s: Do you believe that Canadians see the real Brian Mulroney? Mulroney: Yes, because we are all multifaceted. Sure, there are times when I would like the other side of him to come out.

Maclean’s: What is this other side? Mulroney: Brian Mulroney, as far as I can put it into words, is a person who has a true love of Canada. He is very familyoriented, very generous with his time, with his family and friends. He is very ambitious and hard-working. Those are all sides of him that hopefully will come out during the next five years. Maclean’s: Nancy Reagan was very influential in the appointments her husband has made as President of the United States. Were you privy to any of the decisions your husband made concerning cabinet and staff appointments? Mulroney: Most of the appointments, yes. When I was asked I gave my opinion. I think the final decision is certainly his.

Maclean’s: Your husband has very strong views. It would be interesting to know what informs his opinions—which books he reads and whom he consults. Mulroney: He is a voracious reader. He reads just about everything he can get his hands on—everything from Robert

Ludium to a book on the life and times of Reggie Jackson. He reads sports and he likes newspapers. He also has a lot of friends and people that he has worked with across the country whom he consults. He admires people who work hard and who have strong opinions. Maclean’s: As Prime Minister your husband has to keep pace with other national leaders. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is well-known for working until 3 a.m. What is Brian Mulroney's work pattern?

Mulroney: He is up very early—by a quarter to seven in the morning—and he

is in bed probably by midnight, but there are times when he has been up until 2 a.m. He will come home at lunch if he can break away for an hour and then he comes home for the day sometimes at 5 p.m., sometimes at 7. In the evenings he works on what he has to do the following day. But he does that usually after the children are in bed.

Maclean’s: The switch from private to public life can be traumatic for a family. How has it changed your family life? Mulroney: We respect our private times a lot more than we ever have. We took them for granted, I think. It has also

changed in that I have had to talk to my children on a number of things that I never had to deal with before. Caroline had a few problems initially when she went back to school because she found it very hard to just blend in. She is a 10year-old girl and she went through a little period of uneasiness about what her daddy was doing and how that was going to influence her life.

Maclean’s: How did you advise her? Mulroney: I advised her to have one really good friend that she could talk with, bring home, play with and phone. Sometimes all it takes is one friend. Now she is very happy at school.

Maclean’s: What do the Mulroneys do to relax?

Mulroney: We go for long walks, we read, and we are going to try and take up swimming. It has not sunk in that there is a pool yet because our lives are so busy. Brian did jog for a while but I do not think that he liked it terribly. And we always talk. Sometimes he will call me during the day a few times. Sometimes I will be sitting in the bath and he will be in the bedroom and we will be talking.

Maclean’s: Pierre Trudeau rarely threw parties during his years. Will the same thing happen with the Mulroneys at Sussex Drive?

Mulroney: In this time of restraint it is very important that we send out the right signals, especially from 24 Sussex. I think it would be inappropriate to spend a great amount of money on entertainment until the country gets back on its feet.

Maclean’s: What do you want to accomplish in terms of your own projects? Mulroney: If I can be helpful in the areas of child research and fund raising, I would be very happy. I would also want to work in the area of multicultural involvement in the political system because most of us are immigrants in Canada. If I can get the multicultural community running for office and comfortable in the halls of Parliament, I think that will be one of my greatest steps.

Maclean’s: Did you push your husband to appoint more women to cabinet? Mulroney: No, because he is aware how important it is.

Maclean’s: Many people have called you old-fashioned because you put your family and your husband first. Do you bridle at that?

Mulroney: No, because I am not oldfashioned. I think I am very modern. I have a strong mind of my own. I think a lot of Canadian women are like me.