Former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulroney dead at 84

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Published February 29, 2024 at 6:24 pm

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney

Former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulroney is dead at age 84.

His daughter, Ontario Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney, confirmed his death at 6 p.m. on Feb. 29 writing, “On behalf of my mother and our family, it is with great sadness we announce the passing of my father, The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, Canada’s 18th Prime Minister.”

“He died peacefully, surrounded by family,” she added. Details of Mulroney’s funeral arrangements will be made public when available.

Legacy

Mulroney served as Prime Minister from 1984 to 1993. Before this, the Quebec-born Mulroney worked as a lawyer and president of the Iron Ore Company of Canada. He won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party in 1983 in his second attempt at the role.

After more than 15 non-consecutive years in power, the Canadian electorate had tired of the governing Pierre Trudeau Liberals. Mulroney seized the opportunity and led the PC’s to the second-largest landslide victory in Canadian history, taking almost 80 percent of Parliament. He followed up his win with another majority in 1988.

However, increasing unpopularity led to his resignation in 1993. Months later the PCs fell from 156 seats to two.

Economy

Mulroney’s government brought in numerous reforms including the Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA), the goods and services tax (GST) and privatizing 35 percent of Canada’s Crown Corporations (including Air Canada and Petro Canada). While these changes to the economy remain deeply controversial, they have largely been left in place by successive governments.

His government also slashed spending on social services, particularly Old Age Security and Unemployment Insurance. In 1990, he pulled the Federal government out of UI entirely leaving the program solely funded by employee and employer contributions.

While his government initially worked to pay down the federal deficit and succeeded for a time, the 1990s recession led to the deficit rising again to $38.5 billion. This is slightly more than when he took office.

Mulroney’s biggest economic legacy may be the goods and sales tax (GST). Initially, GST made visible a 13.5 per cent tax paid by manufacturers. While the government argued it was a “tax shift” not a hike, the move was opposed by 80 per cent of Canadians.

Environment

Environmental policy was a major priority for Mulroney. His government created eight federal parks and passed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

In 1987, he hosted world leaders in Montreal to discuss an international ban on chlorofluorocarbons, an aerosol component found to have burned the hole in the Ozone layer. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the resulting ‘Montreal Protocol’ “perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date.”

It was later adopted by the entire United Nations becoming one of the only “universal treaties.” In the years since the world phased out 98 per cent of ozone-depleting substances.

Additionally, Mulroney led Canada to become the first industrialized country to ratify the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and the first in the G7 to sign on to the  United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The latter convention was one of the first international agreements to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions back in 1992.

Quebec

His unsuccessful attempt to have Quebec ratify the constitution in the Meech Lake Accord has been credited with revitalizing Quebec nationalism. This ultimately led to the rise of the Bloc Quebecois and the failed 1995 Independence Referendum shortly after he left office.

Foreign Affairs

Mulroney was prominent on the international stage as well. He strengthened ties to the United States during the Ronald Reagan presidency. The pair bonded over their shared Irish heritage and like-minded economic policies.

Additionally, Mulroney worked within the Commonwealth to condemn and sanction South African Apartheid. This put him in opposition to usual allies like Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Reagan opposed sanctions due to his belief that Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress were communists. Thatcher believed sanctions would harm the British economy. Mulroney forged ahead however and led the Commonwealth of Nations to impose 11 new sanctions in 1986. Mandela later called Mulroney the day after he was freed and made Canada his first state visit.

While other nations avoided aid during the Ethiopian Famine, Mulroney’s government led calls to the United Nations to assist. Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Clark was the first Western leader to go to Ethiopia with aid. Additionally, under Mulroney, Canada became the first nation to recognize a newly independent Ukraine in 1991.

Fall

By 1992, Mulroney’s controversial economic policies and alienation of Quebec and the western Provinces left him deeply unpopular. Two parties split off from the PCs in the late 80s; the Reform Party and the Bloc. This fractured his political coalition and spelled the end of Canada’s Mulroney years.

His approval rating dipped to 12 per cent, making him the least popular Prime Minister ever at the time. He left office in June 1992 just months ahead of the election. Jean Chretien’s Liberals swept to a strong majority government and the PC fell to two seats in the house, the worst defeat in Canadian electoral history. The Bloc Quebecois took Mulroney’s former seat.

The further right-wing Reform Party emerged as the dominant Conservative voice in Canada. In time, co-founder Stephen Harper and PC leader Peter MacKay would lead a merger between the disparate right-wing factions to create the unified Conservative Party of Canada.

Unlike Campbell and Clark, Mulroney greatly supported the merger. He later endorsed Harper for Prime Minister and campaigned for Erin O’Toole in 2021. A year later he said he supported Pierre Pollievre but urged the current Conservative Leader to move closer to the political centre.

Post-politics

Following his resignation, Mulroney returned to the private sector as a consultant working with numerous Canadian and American companies. He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1998.

He read a eulogy at Regan’s 2004 funeral becoming one of the first foreign leaders to eulogize a US President alongside Thatcher. In 2006, he served as Canada’s representative to President Gerald Ford’s funeral.

In 2018, he did the same for President George H.W. Bush, who served as Reagan’s Vice President. The two remained close friends during and after Bush’s 1989-1993 presidency.

He remained a visible commentator on all things political often appearing to discuss politics and elections.

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