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Mulroney's Whoppers

The failed PM's worst BS.

By Rafe Mair 19 Sep 2005 |

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Churchill said of Stanley Baldwin that "he occasionally stumbled upon the truth whereupon he would pick himself up, dust himself off and walk away as though nothing had happened". One might say the same about Brian Mulroney.

His recent bio by Peter C. Newman is chock-a-block full of Mulroney exaggerations and barnyard droppings, but two terrible slanders must be dealt with. In a sense, both are connected to the same subject broadly known as Meech Lake/Charlottetown in which failed agreements have been airbrushed out of Canadian history by the "establishment" who were soundly thrashed by the great unwashed, especially in the four western provinces.

The saga starts in 1982, when then Prime Minister Trudeau brought the constitution to Canada over the objections of the late separatist Premier of Quebec, Rene Levesque. I was there much of the time and I can tell you this - there was no way the Parti Quebecois was ever going to accept any patriation deal made. When you go to as many inter-provincial, intergovernmental meetings as I did, you get to know the players very well. And Bernard Landry, Jacques Parizeau and Rene Levesque attended those meetings simply to show the folks back home how reasonable they were and how unreasonable the rest of Canada was.

Levesque alleged that Quebec was entitled to a veto over any constitutional change - the Supreme Court of Canada, with three Quebec judges, unanimously held Quebec was bound by the Trudeau deal which had an amending formula free of vetoes.


In 1983, Brian Mulroney stabbed his leader, Joe Clark in the back and usurped the Conservative throne. He then actively courted for the Conservative party Quebec separatists like Lucien Bouchard, who later became the separatist premier of Quebec. (Mind you, when they were Tories they were "sovereigntists" … sounds so much more palatable to the rest of the country.) The bait Mulroney offered to these traitors, as traitors they were, was constitutional reform to get Quebec to sign on to an amended constitution and, in Mulroney's horse buns phrase to "make Canada whole again".

The Tories won in 1984 and Mulroney went about redeeming his promise to the Quebec separatist movement. It all started in August 1986 when the nation's premiers at their annual conference, in a wine-laced luncheon sans their advisers, went along with Mulroney's plea to postpone all constitutional claims until Quebec had been satisfied. This meant Quebec would gain a veto with which it could devastate any other claims, didn't occur to the premiers.

Mulroney couldn't believe his luck and he quickly put together a constitutional package to be presented to the premiers in a First Ministers' Conference at Meech Lake in June of 1987. Without going into tiresome details, Quebec got what it wanted including its precious veto. The deal was to be ratified by June 17, 1990 and here is Mulroney's first immense lie. Meech Lake was not killed by Premier Clyde Wells of Newfoundland. Before the Newfoundland Assembly could vote (and most observers think they would have defeated it), an NDP backbencher in the Winnipeg legislature, Elijah Harper, effectively killed the deal. Wells, seeing no need for a divisive vote in his chamber, didn't hold one. Mulroney was enraged and lashed out at Mr. Wells instead of Mr. Harper. Why? Because it's far more politically correct and safer to hit a Liberal premier than an aboriginal!

Political calamities

Out of this came the Charlottetown Accord of 1992 engineered, at least superficially, by Joe Clark. This time it would not be like Meech Lake where only legislature approval was required but there would be a national referendum (Actually Quebec held its own vote on the same question.)

Mulroney had it all on the line - his career, his record in history, his government and, as it turned out, his party. He spared no effort as he called in all his counters so that Business, Labour, all political parties and the Artsy Fartsy crowd were all on side. MacLean-Hunter, which then owned the Financial Post as well as Macleans, actually registered on the "yes" side! Think on that - a member of the fourth estate rather than looking at the matter critically, actually formally joined the Mulroney team. There was one member of the media, a talk show host, in far-off Vancouver who fought both agreements with everything he had but modesty etc, etc.

It was a political calamity of the first rank. Mulroney turned on his considerable charm to gain allies and his venom to smash his opponents. He and his cronies made it clear that the country would collapse instantly if the deal failed. In one of his more theatrical moments, Mulroney went on the telly and tore the Constitution up saying that was would happen to Canada if the NO side prevailed.

No, no, no

Well, the No side did prevail - surprisingly, in Nova Scotia, not so surprisingly in Quebec and in all western provinces with BC leading the country with just under 70 percent opposed. It was a colossal defeat for Mulroney personally and it left not only the country exhausted but the Progressive Conservative party divided. When on February 24, 1993, Mulroney resigned, the party picked a young attractive, and very talented Vancouver woman, Kim Campbell as leader. When she went to the people four months later, on October 25 1993, she got slaughtered, with the Tories losing all but two seats: neither of the survivors being in Western Canada, the former Tory stronghold.

Perhaps the Tory campaign under Campbell was less than great but the fact is the public voted against Brian Mulroney, period. There was no one who could have saved the 1993 election for the Conservatives. To blame Kim Campbell, the second great slander, is disgraceful even for Mulroney.

'Extra lollipops'

To blame the disintegration of the Progressive Conservative on Preston Manning, whose fledgling party for the most part carried traditionally Tory Western Canada, is a base canard even by Mulroney's standards.

Pierre Trudeau, of whom I'm no fan, understood that while Quebec must be cuddled, fondled and sometimes given extra lollypops, once you gave her special constitutional rights you put the country on a slippery slope to big trouble. Brian Mulroney didn't understand this with the result he badly divided the nation, left Quebec even more pissed off than ever, cost his party the election of 1993 and those thereafter, and shattered the Conservative Party. In the result, it's a fair argument that neither the country nor his party will survive his premiership.

That is the legacy of The Right Honourable Martin Brian Mulroney P.C. and, let's never forget, Companion of the Order of Canada.

Rafe Mair's column for The Tyee runs every Monday and he can be heard every weekday morning from 8:30-10:30 on 600AM. His website is  [Tyee]

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