What did the former prime minister really think about his colleagues, contemporaries and rivals—not to mention their wives? In 12 years of candid conversations,

PETER C. NEWMAN September 19 2005


What did the former prime minister really think about his colleagues, contemporaries and rivals—not to mention their wives? In 12 years of candid conversations,

PETER C. NEWMAN September 19 2005



EXCLUSIVE The Maclean's Excerpt

What did the former prime minister really think about his colleagues, contemporaries and rivals—not to mention their wives? In 12 years of candid conversations,


THE BOOK BEING PUBLISHED THIS WEEK from which these excerpts are taken originated at a cottage near Magog, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships in 1976.1 had gone there to interview a youthful and bushy-tailed Brian Mulroney, who had just recently popped up on Canada’s political radar as a leadership candidate for the Progressive Conservative party. By then we had been friends for 15 years, had exchanged many confidences, and thought about the country’s future in much the same way.

One evening, sharing the porch of the cottage, when Mulroney was weighing his chances of succeeding Pierre Trudeau as prime minister, he discussed my possible role in his government and even tentatively offered me an ambassadorship. I told him I wasn’t interested in lying for my country, but that if he won, I intended to write a book about his time in office. I said it would be entitled The Burden of Power, and hoped that he would grant me virtually unlimited interviews and give me access to the essential documents of his reign. He readily agreed to my only other condition, that it not be an authorized, but independent literary enterprise: “Lookit,” he said, “I don’t want a puff job. I find myself so goddamn frus-

trated, as a modest student of history, wanting to know what was the guy really like? Did he get laid? Did he look after his family? Did he swear? Did he get drunk? I’ve always said that if I were lucky enough to be in that position as prime minister, I would not object at all to people reading about my warts and my failings. They’re part of me. So, as I say, I don’t want a puff job.”

He didn’t get one.

Eight years after the Magog accord, he was elected prime minister of Canada with the largest majority in the country’s history, and I began the first of my on-the-record interviews. I would sneak into Ottawa, pretending to be searching for a long-lost cousin, with hardly anyone knowing that I was really taping the Big Guy. The only condition he set, which I had no problem accepting, was that my book would be published after he left office, so that he could talk more freely. We eventually recorded nearly 100 conversations, and as the book’s 21 chap-


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THE SECRET MULRONEY TAPES Peter C. Newman; Random House of Canada; $37.95


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ters indicate, he really let it all hang out. No prime minister has ever been as unguarded and candid in his thoughts and comments with a working journalist.

My full-scale biography of his regime fell apart after Mulroney departed Ottawa and I was not given access to the documents I required. But the interviews were too beguiling, too outrageous, too stunningly indiscreet and savagely frank to gather dust on my bookshelves. I thought that the transcripts of our exchanges deserved to see the light of day. Thus, The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister.

Apart from his occasionally profane rants against the press and his critics, I also recorded 228 interviews with members of the PM’s inner circle. The transcripts of this exercise, carried on over 12 years, totalled 1.8 million words. Mulroney is revealed as a politician who dared risk unpopularity in the cause of modernizing Canada’s economic infrastructure and rewriting the nation’s social contract. At the time, instead of being hailed as a reformer, he aroused more fear and loathing than any of his predecessors. It turned surprisingly personal. People began to blame him for every sparrow that fell from the sky; for their cars that didn’t start in winter, and vending machines that didn’t cough up the promised can of Diet Coke. He became the nation’s designated lightning rod.

Yet his accomplishments were considerable. His free trade agreement with the Yanks turned around 125 years of history. Instead of pretending that the 20th century belonged to Canada, he made sure that Canada would belong to the 21st. That was no mean achievement.

And yet, he bugs us still...



Brian Mulroney on his predecessor’s legacy:

I’m surprised at how much we all forget what the country was like when he left office in 1984. Imagine him talking about me causing regional problems—Trudeau, the architect of regional disintegration in Canada. He was elected in June of 1968. At that time René Lévesque had left the Liberal party, and by 1976 he was in power as a separatist. And who was prime minister? Mr. Trudeau. So separatism went from not existing, to a movement, to a party, to opposition in 1970, to power in 1976. They were still in power in 1985, and he was saying that I had created separatism! Trudeau gets away with it because of an abdication of responsibility by the Canadian media. Am I wrong, or did I miss something?

On their brief shared time in Parliament:

I saw the less attractive dimension of Trudeau every day in the House of Commons. I think he’ll be regarded with some affection for the 1980 referendum stuff, but he’ll be unquestionably regarded as a very inept fellow on the economic side. Very, very inept, and very bad for our relations around the world. He has an unbecoming habit of distorting the truth and he has a streak of vindictiveness to him. He’s infinitely more partisan than I ever thought possible. He has a streak of malice in him that is most unbecoming. He conducted himself on the floor of the House and elsewhere like a cruel dictator.

How do you get along on a personal level?

I never call him Pierre, but he always calls me Brian. We always speak French anyway. As far as our interaction, let me put it this

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way: he has always been very civil and very cordial with me, and I have been the same.

On why there was armoured glass in the windows of his Parliament Hill office:

Go bang the window, Peter, and see what happens—just go test it. See that? Trudeau had the office bulletproofed. I always contended that the reason he did it was because the American embassy is right outside. They probably wanted to shoot him.

On Trudeau’s reputation as a statesman:

I suppose if you’re Pierre Trudeau it must be kind of difficult to get up in the morning and look in the mirror and know you’ve seen perfection for the last time all day. I mean, God almighty, you’ve seen the notes that I made on what Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand said about my predecessor. It is unbelievable.

Trudeau, point of fact, was always treated with absolute contempt and derision by all of our allies. They had no time for him. It was almost a joke.

The only people who thought Trudeau had any influence in world affairs were the Toronto Star. God bless them for their ignorance.

Today, Jeanne Sauvé was buried, 30 below zero, everybody was there, but Pierre Trudeau didn’t show up, didn’t interrupt his holidays. I can remember at Peter Curry’s 80th birthday party in October, I was there at the Ritz with Mila, and he was there and he left at one o’clock in the morning. And the next day was Paul Martin’s funeral in Windsor, Ont., and he never even showed up. It’s Jeanne Sauvé, for God’s sake! Jacques Parizeau was there, Lucien Bouchard was there, Marcel Pépin was there, but Pierre Trudeau didn’t even bother interrupting a holiday.

Trudeau remained a hot button:

Pierre Trudeau was a coward and a weakling because when Guy Charbonneau, Pierre Sévigny and Paul Sauvé were fighting off Nazis on the battlefields of France, Pierre Trudeau was fighting off blackflies in Outremont. This guy was a bully with people when he became prime minister, he was dishonest intellectually, he moved from party to party for opportunistic reasons and his record as a prime minister is absolutely mediocre.



On why the previous Tory government collapsed after just a few months:

Poor Joe. Poor guy. No wonder our goddamn government fell apart in 1979, no wonder. Holy smokes. If you don’t have the caucus, you can’t govern, it’s just that way. That’s what Clark found out. Because the argument is quite obvious: you have to control your own caucus and manage your own caucus. The problem was Clark’s caucus. He never knew how to manage men and women. I’m not so sure that he does today, although if he hasn’t learned anything over the last seven or eight years, he’d be a very stupid man, and he’s not stupid.

On having anything to do with the end of Clark’s leadership:

The Jeffrey Simpson myth is that I deposed Joe Clark. The truth is he deposed himself, helped byjohn Crosbie, Michael Wilson, David Crombie and all of the people in his caucus who didn’t want to serve under him anymore. That was the issue. The whole thing about 1983—it’s all a crock about me unseating Clark and all that stuff. It’s a total crock. He knew he had lost his caucus. It didn’t matter if he had the editorial backing of the Toronto Star. He failed to understand that in a parliamentary system you can’t lead without your caucus, and the caucus didn’t want him. The whole thing about Clark and me is an absolute bloody myth. Sure, when he called a leadership convention, I ran, because I was convinced of what his caucus already knew: that his leadership skills were weak and that he just couldn’t command their support into the next election.

His behaviour toward Clark was still a sore spot for Mulroney in the early 1990s:

Stop giving me the goddamned gears about Joe Clark. Who do you think the prime minister of Israel is today? And guess where the former leader is. Well, the prime minister is Yitzhak Rabin, because he overthrew Shimon Peres and he won the election. Now, this goes on all the goddamned time in democracies. But I had nothing to do with the defeat of the government in 1979 in the Commons. I had nothing to do with the defeat of the government in the


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election in 1980.1 contested the leadership when Clark threw it open and won it fair and square.

On having a former prime minister in his cabinet:

After Thatcher overthrew Conservative leader Ted Heath and then won a election, Heath wanted to serve in her government, and she said, “Over my dead body.” Christ, he just about fell off the chair. Then the Canadian Press says in 1984, “Wasn’t Joe Clark a nice guy to serve in Brian Mulroney’s cabinet?” The only reason he served in my cabinet is that I invited him. I had 209 other members, and the only reason that he’s there is because I asked him to be. So we’d better get a few things straight.

On Clark as steward of the Charlottetown process:

The guy wanted a deal so badly—he wanted to be associated with a winner. I mean, how else do you explain it? It’s a real, real mess. I tell you, if Clark walked the streets of Montreal, they’d throw tomatoes at him. And these are the federalists, not the separatists— “Get rid of this son of a bitch.” I have to conclude that Clark saw himself in a position as a nation builder, doing something that I couldn’t do. Jesus, it’s hard to put even the most charitable construction

on this. Clark fancied himself, believed all this crap in the newspapers about how much Canadians loved him and trusted him and all of this stuff, and he was going to be Sir John A. Macdonald. He’s accident-prone—I say that with no malice. Happens to some people I guess.

Later, as things looked up for the “Yes” side, Mulroney changed his tune on Clark-and claimed his own share of the credit:

Clark softened up the premiers a lot over 14 months—he wore them out. Clark’s process built up a lot of goodwill, no question. But in 1992, you cannot club provincial premiers to death, you can’t. I tell you, there were about 10 times this thing could have gone off the rails just like that. And sometimes it was a premier with a timely remark, sometimes it was just a timely adjournment, and sometimes I had to take them right to the woodshed. Maybe some day it’s going to dawn on these dummies in the press gallery what’s going on here, although I’m doing fine without their credit. I don’t need it.

At the next convention Clark backed the wrong candidate:

Quite frankly, I once thought that Joe Clark would be a good successor, and he blew the whole goddamned thing with his stupid-


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ity. I mean, look at what the poor bastard did. Oh God, it was a terrible performance. A former prime minister of Canada in a sweaty T-shirt looking not like a senior statesman, but like a ward boss, berating Jim Edwards.

Many people now think that he cost Charest the leadership. Edwards, who normally would have gone to Charest, went to Kim Campbell in substantial part because he was so pissed off at Clark for trying to strong-arm his delegates. This is Clark’s greatest act of political stupidity since he threw away the government. How can you urge Edwards not to support a fellow westerner and the first woman? Clark’s just not a player anymore.

As he prepared for his own retirement, Mulroney reflected on Clark’s career:

In 10 years, I’ve come full circle on Clark. I thought for a while that he had learned. I gave him all those good jobs, gave him all this flexibility. And you know what? He was a good minister, but his greatest success was in persuading the Ottawa press gallery that he’s a humble, modest guy. He’s anything but. I don’t say this with malice. I say it with regret. It’s now very clear to me how he blew his own leadership, how he blew his own government after a few

days in the House of Commons, and then how he managed to so alienate his own caucus. His judgment is fatally flawed. Otherwise, he’s got many fine qualities.



As the Liberals were about to elect a new leader in 1984,

Mulroney rated his chances:

Prime Minister Trudeau has clearly indicated that he considers himself to be the best of that lot, and I can’t disagree with that assessment, as I look across the aisle and see what he’s got there. He’s clearly a cut above the rest. Now, Chrétien would have been more dangerous. The guy is a loose cannon. He’ll say anything and do anything. Turner will be no trouble. Lookit, the poor bugger’s going to wake up today and he’s finally where he wants to be, except he ain’t there yet. He’s got to earn it. The polls show the Liberal hold in Ottawa is 26 per cent. That’s the high. The guys are goners. They’re fucking goners.

Mulroney compared his humble beginnings with Turner’s:

I don’t think it’s just a difference in attitude. It’s also background


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called the election when I did, but I had no choice.” And I said, “John, if I can give you any advice, it would be don’t do what I did—don’t spend your time wondering what if.”

and accomplishment. It’s the difference between—at similar ages—driving a truck, and being home and having steaks flown over to you. There’s a pretty fundamental difference. I don’t want to dwell on it, but to me it’s so obvious. It’s the difference between inheriting a seat when he was 30 and going through the usual Quebec Liberal routine, getting to be parliamentary secretary automatically, then minister and so on. I had hands-on management responsibilities. I have run a shop.

After his victory, Mulroney couldn’t help but crow over Turner’s fate:

That guy, God bless him. There’s a fellow who really, really is only trying—he just wasn’t as good as he thought he was. See, I had to get him on TV. The Liberals probably counted on Turner either winning or losing; they didn’t expect a rout, in English and French. “I had no option.” That was my campaign right there. “The devil made me do it.” They would yell at me in the back of the hall, “Tell us about the devil.” So I’d have to go through the routine. No wonder the goddamn thing went poof. Poor Conrad Black, who supported the Liberals. The word flowing around is that there was a big chunk of dough for Turner from Conrad, which surprised me, because he’s fundamentally ungenerous, tight as a drum.

Mulroney recalled a visit to 24 Sussex, to discuss the transition with Turner:

We both sat in here. I ordered coffee and he ordered Perrier, in the morning. He was in pretty bad shape, the poor bugger. He was pretty hungover. He said, “I know you think that I shouldn’t have





In 1990, Chrétien-who had finished second to Turner in 1984-and a young Paul Martin were regarded as the front-runners for Liberal leader:

I hope they select Chrétien and the spotlight goes on him. His first press conference will be fine—he’s going to have the English-speaking journalists in Ottawa eating right out of his hand. The second one, well, not so good. By the third one, Chrétien’s going to be in serious trouble. I’m waiting to see what Paul Martin can do, but I’m afraid that there’s not much hope for him.

After Chrétien was officially anointed, he was no longer amusing:

When we get to 1993, the Liberals will have reached back to a guy who came into politics in 1963 and hasn’t had a new idea since. He’s not an impressive guy at all. He thinks he’s a stand-up comedian; well, at least Crosbie was funny. Chrétien is just vulgar, with these phony old ministerial jokes. I was out of politics for seven years, reading and working and thinking and learning new things, and new approaches. Chrétien hasn’t done a goddamn thing; the only thing the guy reads is the Montreal Gazette; he hasn’t read a book in 20 years. He’s not going to make any appeal in Western Canada without me cutting his throat in French Canada.

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Mulroney thought Chrétien should have distanced himself from Trudeau, and stopped listening to his wife:

He should have disowned Trudeau before and done Meech Lake and said, “Lookit, Meech Lake is done—I didn’t like it but it’s done, and now let’s get rid of Mulroney on economic issues.” He could have had the whole thing! But his wife wouldn’t let him change his mind on Meech. His wife is the dominant figure in the marriage. She is the one who said he would look wishy-washy. She didn’t understand the implications. She thought that no matter what he did, her beautiful Jean would come back and put the frogs in their place because the two of them now view Quebec as a plantation after living in Ottawa for 25 years. They move in a different society, no roots whatsoever, none in Quebec. The fact of the matter is Chrétien will not run in Quebec because he cannot get elected. The polling numbers go like this:

who do you think could best represent Canada internationally? Mulroney, 64 per cent. Chrétien, two per cent. “Dis and dat and I’m going to do dis... And I’m a frog, and all dese tings...”

The skeletons in Chrétien’s closet:

When I came to office, I took Mr. Trudeau’s house and we spruced it up. I took his old plane. I took his old cars. I took his office. I never did anything. I never changed anything. I took the swimming pool that he had built. I took Harrington Lake. I mean, what is this they say about my extraordinary lifestyle?

You tell me, talk about a lifestyle, how does a guy like Chrétien wind up owning a golf course? And a house in Ottawa, and all of these other things. His son gets charged and convicted of rape, yet he’s never been sentenced. His daughter is married to Andy Desmarais, one of the richest people in Canada, and he’s supposed to

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be a poor boy. And I’m supposed to be some rich spender. Mulroney wondered how Chrétien could so effortlessly go back on his campaign promises to repeal the GST and NAFTA:

All this nonsense going on, the guy just swallows himself whole on NAFTA, nobody says a word. It’s just been an awful bloody piece of business. Only a mean, dirty bastard would do something like that, or a fucking stupid one. And you know what? He’s both. And he’s sucking in this bunch of assholes in the press gallery in Ottawa.

And the GST? For that I got pilloried personally. So the Canadian people, they’re sitting there and they’re watching the Liberals do exactly what I did and they’re going to start to wonder after a while, how come they pilloried Mulroney for this, now they’re doing it themselves. And we’re supposed to think Chrétien is a great guy?



Watson is an unrelieved disaster.

And I really overrode my whole cabinet. Every single one of them said Patrick Watson would be a disaster, the worst thing that ever happened to public broadcasting. And I put him in there.

Watson is a rotten son of a bitch. I said to Roy Faibish, “You tell Watson to stay the fuck out of my way.” He begged for the CBC job for 20 years. He lobbied for it, got it from me and, without any provocation, turned and attacked me. There’s something in the air in Ottawa that some of them take in. Watson is asking to be bought out, but we’ll be cruel and let him stay in his job. He hates it.



On Manning’s new party:

The Reform party is anti-everything. There’s a really deep, deepseated racism there. I still don’t know what to make of Reform. I know that for the moment it’s growing, but these are one-trick ponies. They’re not standing on a whole lot of sound ground—it’s all negative.

Manning attacked Charlottetown as the “Mulroney accord”:

Manning painted himself as being different from the rest of us lowlifes—he was like the Blessed Virgin Mary and the rest of us

were a bunch of pretty bad actors. The Canadian people are capable of great acts of stupidity, but even when they are being stupid, they know what’s going on. They know that the Charlottetown agreement is not the Mulroney deal.

In the lead-up to the 1993 election, Mulroney wondered why Albertans weren’t supporting Kim Campbell:

Kim Campbell is not some frog from Baie-Comeau, even though the frog from Baie-Comeau gave the West more power and more money and more prosperity. I gave them everything they said they wanted. But I’m a frog from Baie-Comeau—this had to be done by some pure westerner.



The Rat Pack? These are Nazis. I’m in Question Period and to my absolute horror, I’m getting the shaft for being the co-chairman of the UN Summit on Children. Then finally this guy from Winnipeg gets up and accuses me of bringing in these children from across the country to have a photo op. And I said in a very loud voice: “That vulgar bastard, what a vulgar bastard.” Then Sheila Copps comes out and said I used the words “fucking bastard,” which of course I never did. That night on television they led with Sheila Copps fabricating a falsehood. So what happened? The media should have been after Sheila Copps to apologize to me, but not a word. Sheila is a partisan but she’s also her own worst enemy; she’ll never be a leader because she has no judgment. She never knows when to stop.

Two years after, Mulroney was still sure he could have won in 1993:

I came from 14 points behind in 1984 to win big, the biggest in Canadian history. I came from 23 points behind in 1988 to win another huge majority. And I was going to come from behind again had I run. If I couldn’t defeat Jean Chrétien, this guy, I’ll jump out that window right now.

On the the Meech Lake accord’s most contentious clause:

Doesn’t mean a goddamned thing. The distinct society clause, as I said to Clyde Wells, all it means is dick to me. Means dick.

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On encouraging his successor:

Keep your pecker up, Kim...

On his treatment by the media:

You will not find one favourable adjective in 10 years. Even fucking Hitler had someone writing one good adjective.

On Maureen McTeer:

Joe’s wife hates me, but then again, she hates most people.

On his own management skills:

You have to understand people. You have to like people. You would fail as a leader if you allowed vindictiveness or mean-spiritedness to enter your judgment or your personality. This is for the book, right?

Excerpted from The Secret Mulroney Tapes by Peter C. Newman. Copyright ©2005 Clandebye Ltd. Reproduced by permission of Random House Canada. All rights reserved.