CANADA

An unflattering portrait of Mulroney

MICHAEL ROSE September 28 1987
CANADA

An unflattering portrait of Mulroney

MICHAEL ROSE September 28 1987

An unflattering portrait of Mulroney

It is without precedent in Canadian political journalism. A senior aide to a prime minister—in this case Brian Mulroney’s former press secretary, Michel Gratton—writes a book telling the secrets that he has learned and publishes it while his former employer is still in office. In light of the serious image problems facing the Mulroney administration, it is a scenario that has some officials in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) nervous. And the final proofs of Grafton’s book, to be published in mid-October, indicate that their concern is warranted. In the 237page book—entitled So What are the Boys Saying?— Gratton paints a distinctly unflattering portrait of Mulroney and the team he assembled after the Tories’

1984 election sweep.

Indeed Gratton, 35, a former newspaper columnist known during his stormy tenure in the PMO press office for his bohemian personal style and tastes, told Maclean's in an interview last week that he was “pressured” not to write the book by senior PMO officials whom he would not name. Mulroney,

Gratton writes, was obsessed with media coverage of his administration, to the point where members of his staff spent much of their time “reacting to the media instead of governing.” According to Gratton, Mulroney showed an equally strong reluctance to let those around him see his “grand agenda,” preferring to reveal it only in fragments even to his most senior aides. The Prime Minister’s Office, Gratton claims, was disrupted by infighting, indecision, arrogance and Mulroney’s frequent “rages” over political setbacks.

Gratton praises the Mulroney government’s performance in some areas—especially the economy—and he says that he respects the Prime Minister’s abilities. But his book contains many blunt assessments. The most damaging material is in the chapters in which Gratton analyses the reasons for Mulroney’s problems in of-

fice. By 1986, Gratton writes, “we had fallen into the trap devised by Mulroney’s obsession with the media.” That trap, he says, created a situation in which the Prime Minister “appeared to be in power just to be in power.” The responsibility for that, Gratton says, rests with Mulroney. Declares the former press secretary: “The Boss wanted everyone to like him—which is a fine quality, but not

a prime ministerial one.”

Gratton writes that Mulroney showed inordinate concern about how his image and record would compare to those of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. At times, he says, PMO officials tried to take revenge on political opponents. In one case cited by Gratton, they leaked damaging information to the Toronto Globe and Mail about former Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy—saying that Axworthy had overspent his office budget while he was transport minister in 1984. Gratton also describes Mulroney’s anger at poor media coverage. In one episode, Gratton writes: “When I first showed Mulroney the [Canadian Press] wire

story, he went white as a sheet, then started shouting that it was ‘terrible’ and ‘outrageous’ along with some phrases that would make a stevedore blush.”

Since leaving the PMO last March, Gratton has returned to his former job as a columnist for Ottawa’s Frenchlanguage daily, Le Droit With his flamboyant behavior and dishevelled appearance, he never appeared comfortable among more serious-minded Tory strategists. But it was his reputation as a ladies’ man that led him to his most serious problem in the PMO: allegations last November by two female reporters that he had asked them out on dates when they requested interviews with the Prime Minister. In his book, Gratton rejects the allegations and says that the reporters misinterpreted comments that he had intended as a joke. Still, some observers have argued that those suggestions were the real reason that Mulroney accepted his resignation four months later.

In his book, Gratton insists that he resigned because “the fun had gone out of it.” And he rejects any suggestion that he wrote the book to exact revenge on his former colleagues. For their part, PMO officials would say little publicly about the book’s publication next month. But privately, one official acknowledged that “there is certainly a lot of curiousity about what is going to be said.”

Gratton himself predicted that when 30,000 hard-cover copies of the book appear next month, Mulroney “won’t like it, I know.” But he said that the book contains a valuable message for the Prime Minister as he heads toward his second election campaign some time in the next 18 months. “What I’m trying to tell the Prime Minister,” Gratton said, “is that he should be himself. When he isn’t, he inevitably turns people off.”

MICHAEL ROSE