The Mulroney Years


Anthony Wilson-Smith March 8 1993

The Mulroney Years


Anthony Wilson-Smith March 8 1993

The Mulroney Years



On a freezing cold afternoon last week, sunlight streamed through the windows of the room that for more than eight years has been a retreat for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his family. The comfortably furnished family room on the second floor of 24 Sussex Drive has been the setting for some of the family’s most private moments—as well as for some of the Prime Minister’s most important political decisions. Mila Mulroney and the children sometimes gather there to play the piano that sits in a corner, or to rest on one of the three floral printed couches, reading some of the hundreds of books that line the shelves along one wall. On other occasions, Mulroney has invited his closest advisers into the room to plot strategy for such initiatives as last fall’s constitutional referendum. But politics was far from Mulroney’s mind as he gazed out the window across the Ottawa River and at the snow-covered Gatineau Hills beyond. Said a smiling Mulroney, two days after announcing his intention to retire from office: “This is a beautiful view, but it ain’t free. And now it’s time for someone else to pay the price.”

In the days following his announcement, a relaxed, ebullient Mulroney clearly relished the prospect of a return to private life—but it was clearly an emotional time, as well. Since making his decision public on Feb. 24, the Prime Minister—according to one longtime friend—“has shed 10 years and 25 worry lines from his face.” In a two-hour interview with Maclean’s, he discussed topics ranging from his relationship with U.S. President Bill Clinton to the Montreal Canadiens’ chances of winning the

Stanley Cup (page 36). Of his own future, Mulroney said, “I look ahead with great curiosity.” For now, he added, his plans include a move with his family to Montreal, a return to practising law, some work with charitable foundations and involvements of an unspecified nature with his two former universities—St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish, N.S., and Laval in Quebec City. And, declared Mulroney: “I guarantee you, I’m 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.” Visiting his home town of Baie-Comeau on Quebec’s North Shore on the weekend, however, Mulroney’s fabled ability to conceal his emotions in public cracked. He looked across a crowd of about 200 people, including many who had been friends of his father, Ben, who died in 1965. Between long pauses, he thanked them for the kindness and support that he said they had showed him since childhood. Tears streamed down his face as he finished, to a standing ovation. Mila Mulroney and many people in the crowd also wept. Later, he said that there is a sense of communion among people who grew up in isolated regions, adding: “It stays with you for the rest of your life.”

Agenda: For those who hope to succeed him as prime minister, the immediate agenda leaves little time for retrospection. By the end of the week, only one aspirant—Garth Turner, backbench MP for the Torontoarea riding of Halton/Peel—had publicly indicated his interest in running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives. But beyond the dark grey stone walls of 24 Sussex, Ottawa was awash in

anticipation and speculation. Within three days of Mulroney’s announcement, a dozen Tory backbenchers and ministers were actively considering their chances (page 14). Many of them are expected to declare their intentions on or after March 8, after the party officially announces the date and location for a leadership convention. Although it is almost certain that the vote will be held on Saturday,

June 12, there are still four cities in serious contention as host sites: Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. In fact, senior party organizers said that they received detailed proposals from all four cities, along with several others, within minutes of his resignation announcement.

Those who are considered certain to enter the race include Defence Minister Kim Campbell and Environment Minister Jean Charest—the two likely front-runners, according to many Tories—as well as International Trade Minister Michael Wilson and Communications Minister Perrin Beatty. External Affairs Minister Barbara McDougall, who cut short a tour of Asia to return home after Mulroney made his announcement, is weighing conflicting advice from friends on her chances. Two others, Employment and Immigration Minister Bernard Valcourt and Labor Minister Marcel Danis, have separately gone south this week to consider their options. Others who have told colleagues that they are considering a run include Health and Welfare Minister Benoît Bouchard and Finance Minister Donald Mazankowski, who may run jointly, and

National Revenue Minister Otto Jelinek and Douglas Lewis, the solicitor general. Backbencher Turner could be joined by Toronto-area MP Patrick Boyer and Edmonton’s James Edwards.

Well before Mulroney’s announcement, some of the pretenders to his position had begun active, though surreptitious, campaigns. Conservative party sources said that supporters of Wilson commissioned a poll three weeks ago to measure his popularity among party members. Beatty’s organizers have been tracking potential delegates by computer for well over six months. Several of his cabinet colleagues say that the findings apparently indicate that he would gain strong support from the Prairie provinces as well as from his native Ontario. One Ontariobased pollster told Maclean ’s that he was contacted twice in the past three weeks by Tories who wanted to commission surveys on behalf of unnamed potential candidates.

Hurdles: The candidates will face several major hurdles—including the necessity of raising a minimum of $1 million to run a credible campaign. For most, they will have to expand their support beyond their own regions, g Only two likely candidates— E Campbell and Charest—ap| pear to have a significant degree of support across much of the country. Paradoxically, however, both may have more difficulty than expected in picking up support in their home provinces. Some Tories suggest that Campbell is unpopular among party members in British Columbia because of her relatively liberal stance on social issues. But among potential anglophone candidates, she has a strong base of supporters in Quebec—with Treasury Board President Gilles Loiselle a key ally. Indeed, a Gallup poll conducted last week indicated that she would fare better in Quebec than Charest in a federal election. The poll also showed that only her candidacy would pull the Tories almost even with the Liberals.

For his part, Charest may suffer among Quebec delegates because of the perception that the rest of the party is unwilling to replace Mulroney with another leader from that province. Offsetting that is the likelihood that he will receive help from organizers for the provincial Liberal party, where he is well connected. And his effortless bilingualism, popularity in caucus and credentials as a strong federalist will help him outside the province.

Beatty and Wilson, the two next-strongest candidates, have little support in Quebec and Atlantic Canada and will likely compete directly against each other for support in Toronto, much of the rest of Ontario and in the four western provinces.

By contrast, two other potential candidates—Danis and Valcourt—

might run precisely because of their ability to attract support in specific regions of the country. Valcourt, many Tories say, would pick up a large number of Atlantic delegates because of his personal popularity and his status as the only candidate from that region. If Danis runs, it will be because of a belief among Quebec Tories that the province needs at least two candidates in the race to reinforce its influence within the party.

And Danis, a widely respected veteran Tory organizer, could command the support of delegates in many of the Montreal-area ridings. Both men could then attempt to strengthen their positions in the party by delivering votes to the eventual winner.

Jockey: While those hopefuls jockey for position, many of Mulroney’s key supporters will be noticeable by their lack of participation in the race. One reason is the fear that their involvement on behalf of any candidate would be perceived as an endorsement by Mulroney, which would be an inappropriate gesture for an incumbent Prime Minister. Among those who have already told friends they will stay neutral:

Mulroney chief of staff Hugh Segal and former press secretary and longtime friend Bill Fox. Toronto lawyer John Tory and Justice Minister Pierre Blais, the cochairmen of the party’s election strategy team, are also likely to stay on the sidelines. One notable exception is Harry Near, a longtime Conservative organizer and Fox’s partner in a powerful Ottawa lobbying firm, Eamscliffe Strategy Group. Said Near: “If I was smart, I would stay neutral—but I have never been a very smart guy.” Near added that he has not yet decided who to support.

In the speculation surrounding the choice of a new leader, the incumbent was perhaps briefly forgotten—but he was far from gone. Indeed, Mulroney said that he intends to remain a “very active” Prime Minister until the moment he relinquishes office. He also bluntly told potential candidates to conduct a

dignified race to succeed him. At a cabinet meeting after his resignation announcement, he laid down a series of guidelines for ministers who enter the campaign. Among the temptations they were ordered to resist: the use of government jets and telephone lines for campaign purposes, and the acceptance of any campaign contributions from corporations or individuals they deal with as part of their responsibilities. They were also told that any members of their government-paid political staff who are going to work on their campaigns

should take immediate unpaid leave.

In fact, Mulroney coordinated his departure with the same degree of control that he customarily exerted on his caucus throughout his decade as party leader. Although he would not say precisely when he decided on the timing of his announcement, he made his decision known in stages to groups of friends and associates, each group larger than the last. One member of Mulroney’s cabinet speculated that he made his decision during the past two weeks when, said the minister, “He went almost overnight from looking strained and exhausted to being relaxed and cheerful—I remember wondering if this was the reason.” Another indication was Mulroney’s behavior in international circles: two weeks ago, he met in Ottawa with the ambassador of another member country of the Group of Seven industrialized nations. When g the ambassador told Mul2j roney how much his leader was looking forward to a o meeting at a scheduled July jg summit in Japan, Mulroney £ responded vaguely. In fact, " the Tokyo summit will likely mark the international debut of Mulroney’s successor, who will probably be sworn in on Canada Day, July 1.

For Mulroney, the final political cycle began with a brunch Sunday morning at home with his wife, and Fox and his wife, Bonnie Brownlee, who was Mila Mulroney’s special assistant until August of 1992. Said Fox: “We did not discuss anything precisely, but I have felt for some time that I understood his intentions.” Then, on Monday night, Mulroney held a dinner for about 30 guests, including former Ontario premier William Davis, Bank of Canada Governor

John Crow, broadcast magnate Edward (Ted) Rogers and campaign co-chairman Tory. Mulroney did not specifically discuss his plans. But one guest said that they understood that “this was very much a farewell.”

The next day, Mulroney addressed the issue directly. He first outlined his resignation plans to Segal and his press secretary, Mark Entwistle, in a meeting that afternoon. During the? evening, he invited several senior cabinet members to 24 Sussex Drive. They included Bouchard and Mazankowski, and several old friends, including Toronto lawyer Sam Wakim. Later that night, CTV News broadcast the first

firm report that he would announce his decision to leave the next day.

On Wednesday morning, with the capital abuzz with expectation, Mulroney met with about two dozen friends and associates at 24 Sussex. Members of the group, who had been invited by telephone the night before, gathered over coffee and homemade blueberry muffins in the Mulroney’s ground-floor living room shortly before 9 a.m. With everyone seated on couches arranged in a horseshoe around him, Mulroney spoke for about five minutes, thanking them for their support over the years and outlining his intentions. One man who was noticeably absent from that and any of the previous gatherings was Mulroney’s two-time leadership rival, Joe Clark, who had announced his own retirement plans four days earlier— after informing Mulroney in advance. Like the rest of the Tory caucus, Clark learned of Mulroney’s intentions in a meeting later that morning on Parliament Hill. There, Mulroney delivered a 45-minute speech from a prepared text in which he reviewed his achievements. At

one point, he recited part of a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem. When he finished his speech, which was punctuated by eight standing ovations, he was followed by Mazankowski and Bouchard—and they both broke into tears on several occasions.

That emotion was later reflected in the welcome given Mulroney when he flew to BaieComeau on the weekend to take part in the opening ceremonies of Quebec’s Winter Games. Before his Saturday speech, about 50 fervent admirers met him at the spartan airport. Among them was 57-year-old John Darby, a property supervisor at a local aluminum

plant who had been an elementary schoolmate of Mulroney. “He was a good Prime Minister,” said Darby. “He did what he thought was right and we’re proud of him.”

Feeling: The Prime Minister’s announcement evoked a remarkable range of public and private feeling. But right up to that moment, he continued to inspire deep loyalty from most of his caucus. To some extent, the allegiance resulted from fear: Mulroney has friends at every level of the party and could be fiercely unforgiving towards those he believed were disloyal. After Senator Janis Johnson, a longtime friend of Mila Mulroney, voted against an abortion bill that Mulroney had supported in the House of Commons, the couple did not speak to her for months. The reconciliation, though now complete, was painfully slow. Equally, Mulroney held a longstanding grudge against cabinet minister Jake Epp for his lukewarm support for the 1990 Meech Lake accord in his home province of Manitoba—one of two provinces where the constitutional agreement eventually foundered.

But that fierce partisanship is counterbalanced by Mulroney’s frequent private acts of kindness toward longtime friends and acquaintances. Said old friend and political foe Paul Martin Jr.: “I can think of few people who I like and respect more personally—and yet I disagree with him on almost everything political.” Martin particularly remembered Mulroney’s kindness last year when his father, Paul Sr., who died in September, 1992, was in hospital. Said Martin: “The Prime Minister showed such kindness to my family that ever since then, when I joust with him in the House of Commons, I am never sure whether my mother is going to back me or him.”

Mulroney is equally known for his compulsive gestures of sympathy and kindness to strangers and casual acquaintances. Last Thursday, CTV talk-show host Shirley Solomon learned, to her obvious disappointment, that the ABC network was backing out of a multimillion-dollar commitment to air her program in the United States. On Friday morning, Solomon told Maclean’s, she received a phone call in which the caller began, “It’s Brian.” After Solomon satisfied herself that it really was the Prime Minister—and not a prankster—he expressed his sympathies to her. “I read about you this morning in the paper,” Solomon recalled the o Prime Minister saying, “and 11 thought you might be upz set.” He added: “I wanted to z phone you to say I think “ you’re a survivor. Mila loves the show—she’s a big fan— and I even saw your interview with Jean Chrétien.” Solomon described the call as “amazing.” According to press secretary Entwistle, Mulroney decided to call her because “he figured she might need some cheering up.”

In his Maclean ’s interview, Mulroney said that one reason he is retiring is that his partisan instincts have begun to moderate. Said the Prime Minister: “I am 53 years old now, and I am as happy as I have ever been. But as I get older, it becomes harder and harder to get angry and bear grudges.” And, he added with a smile, “When a Tory cannot get mad at a Grit any more, you know it is time to leave.” While his would-be successors scramble to fight the political wars, Brian Mulroney hopes to contemplate the meaning of a life without those old enemies—and with a newfound peace of mind.