The warning was prophetic. During Brian Mulroney’s successful 1983 campaign for the Conservative leadership, his convention manager, John Thompson, wrote his boss a memo explaining why some Tories were reluctant to vote for him. Said Thompson bluntly: “They don’t trust you.” Now, four years later, a spate of political books has focused new attention on
Mulroney’s persistent image problems. Among them is a 357-page work by Claire Hoy, the acerbic Toronto Sun columnist. Hoy takes direct aim at the character flaws and policy contradictions that have prompted the Prime Minister’s enemies to label him “Lyin’ Brian.” And although Hoy concludes that Mulroney could still regain public favor, “the fact that failure is even considered a possibility,” he writes, “is a telltale sign that the rot may be terminal.”
Hoy’s negative portrait, Friends In High Places: Politics and Patronage in the Mulroney Government, is one of four books appearing this fall that pummel the Prime Minister. Written by veteran Ottawa journalists, they are the first serious hard-cover analyses of Mulroney and his government since the Conservatives’ 1984 election victory. Collectively, they paint a picture of incompetent and mean-spirited people in
and around 24 Sussex Drive. But Hoy’s blows are probably the most damaging—not because he reveals new scandals but because he chronicles the familiar ones in such a damning way.
Friends In High Places was controversial even before it rolled off the presses of Toronto’s Key Porter Books. Hoy claims that one of Mulroney’s closest friends, Toronto lawyer Samuel
Wakim, complained about the book to the publishers. And Key Porter deleted certain passages—including one concerning Mulroney’s allegedly boorish behavior at a friend’s wedding before he became Prime Minister—after Mulroney loyalists denied Hoy’s version of events. But other gossipy details, from the innocuous to the embarrassing, remain. They range from Mila Mulroney’s dress size—a 10—to an incident in the 1960s in which Hoy says that Mulroney stole the date of David Peterson, now Ontario premier, when both men were bachelors.
Michel Gratton, Mulroney’s former press secretary, is more evenhanded in his account of the Prime Minister’s first years in office, entitled So, What Are the Boys Saying? (Maclean ’s, Sept. 28, 1987). Nevertheless, Gratton paints a picture of a man obsessed with media coverage and surrounded by sycophantic, inept advisers.
While Gratton has nothing but praise for Mila Mulroney, Susan Riley, an Ottawa Citizen editorial writer, offers a more brutal assessment in her book, Political Wives: The Lives of the Saints. Both Riley and Hoy liken Mila Mulroney to Imelda Marcos, wife of the former Philippine president, for her love of expensive clothes. Riley’s chapter on Mila, entitled “Shopping your way to the top,” is a biting portrait of the Prime Minister’s wife. “There .is a cold arrogance about Mila that discourages sympathy,” Riley writes. “She doesn’t have the grace to be embarrassed when her excesses are exposed; instead, she is just irritated.”
The Mulroneys fare better in John Sawatsky’s The Insiders: Government, Business and the Lobbyists — mainly because Sawatsky devotes more attention to Liberal Leader John Turner and his disastrous 1984 election campaign. Still, in retelling the fall of Robert Coates, the Tory defence minister who resigned in February, 1985, after a visit to a West German strip club, Sawatsky portrays Mulroney as a man more concerned with politics than principle. News of that visit reached Mulroney through Duncan Edmonds, Coates’s policy adviser at the time. According to Sawatsky, the Prime Minister directed most of his wrath at Edmonds, not Coates. Mulroney accused Edmonds of “disloyalty and maliciousness and branded him an enemy of the government,” Sawatsky writes. Mulroney even ordered Walter McLean, then secretary of state, “to keep clear of Edmonds,” although the two were close friends.
Such accounts will continue to dog Mulroney as, one by one, the books appear in time for the Christmas market. Some senior Tories, including Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski, are openly fighting back. In a speech in September, Mazankowski attacked the “ever-growing garbage heap of innuendoes, smears and lies” that he said have been directed at the government. Hoy, meanwhile, is delighted with the fuss over his book. “I am bombing along,” he said, “influencing people and winning friends.” Clearly, those friends are not in the Prime Minister’s inner circle.
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