The Magazine

Life of Brian

A comfortable breeze from north of the border.

Feb 18, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 22 • By MICHAEL TAUBE
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That was the beginning of the Mulroney coalition. He brought together Blue Tories (right-leaning conservatives), Red Tories (left-leaning conservatives), and Canadians from all regions. He ran a brilliant campaign, crushing the Liberal leader John Turner and exposing Liberal weaknesses at every turn. And he won an incredible victory: 211 out of 288 parliamentary seats, and 50 percent of the popular vote.

The Mulroney years (1984-93) were an astonishing period in Canadian history. Mulroney patched up his differences with former opponents--Clark, John Crosbie, and Michael Wilson, who had run against Mulroney for the PC leadership--and all played prominent roles in Mulroney's cabinet. As he writes, "I was determined to work closely with the former prime minister and his key supporters to ensure that any leadership-race bitterness was banished and forgotten. My overriding goal was to build a strong, united government that could win elections and face challenges at home and abroad in times of crisis." And his government remained united until the end.

Mulroney's greatest success was achieving the historic free trade deal (NAFTA) with the United States, which was later extended to Mexico. He increased the role of private enterprise in Canada, and made the country desirable for foreign investors. He was an environmentalist, and signed an agreement on acid rain with the first President Bush. He was a driving force in ending apartheid peacefully in South Africa. He forged strong relationships with other leaders--Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Helmut Kohl--and repaired Canada's mediocre reputation as a player on the world stage.

He also faced innumerable challenges. His friend Lucien Bouchard, who he brought into federal politics, ultimately betrayed him and helped form a separatist political party, the Bloc Québécois. The Reform party, under the leadership of Preston Manning, blossomed and began to challenge the PCs for conservative support. He "rolled the dice" twice with the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords as a means to bring Quebec back into the constitution--and was unsuccessful both times.

When Mulroney retired in 1993, he said, "I did not always succeed, but I always tried to do what would be right for Canada in the long term--not what could be politically popular in the short term." To his credit, these memoirs reflect that view. He advertises his successes, but is brutally honest about his failures. The Memoirs are the man.

Michael Taube, columnist and commentator, is a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.