Mulroney makes waves in Midland
ANDREW PHILIPS/SPECIAL TO POSTMEDIA NETWORK Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signs a copy of his book for Midland resident Robert Nykyforak. Mulroney shared his recollections of a full political life during an event at the Midland Cultural Centre Wednesday afternoon.
MIDLAND -- Like many across Canada, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney can't really believe what he's witnessing south of the border.
"In my lifetime, I have never, ever heard of or seen anything as bizarre as this election campaign," Mulroney told a capacity crowd attending the Midland Cultural Centre's popular A Day in the Life series Wednesday afternoon.
Mulroney said he knows both Democrat Hilary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump personally and has difficulty fathoming how the campaign has sunk so low.
"You'd think with what's been happening the last three weeks that Hilary Clinton would be ahead by 40 points, but she's not."
During a nearly 90-minute interview-like discussion led very effectively and efficiently by moderator Fred Hacker, Mulroney recounted his days growing up in Baie Comeau on Quebec's north shore to his political evolution while attending St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, as a booster for Tory leadership hopeful John Diefenbaker, who would go on to to win Canada's then-largest majority government.
"It was amazing what Diefenbaker did in 1958, but it never crossed my mind, ever, that I would replicate or surpass that success," he said.
Often funny and self-deprecating, Mulroney entertained those attending with his thoughts on life, love and politics along with providing the inside scoop on what it was like to win the largest majority government in the nation's history after his Progressive Conservatives captured 211 seats during the 1984 federal election.
The election featured a famous televised debate where Mulroney questioned several political appointments made by then Prime Minister John Turner. Mulroney told Turner, who had only months earlier replaced Pierre Trudeau in the top job, "'You had an option, sir. You could have said, 'I am not going to do it.'"
Prior to the debate, Mulroney was behind in the polls, but that exchange seemed to solidify his position. The next night, he was ahead by 20 points and never looked back.
"Pollster Allan Gregg said it was the greatest shift in polling in (Canadian) history," he said. "We got the biggest majority in history and it's all attributable to that debate."
And of course, Mulroney provided anecdotes relating to some of his government's most notable initiatives, including its work on the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the GST and environmental record that at one time earned him the label as Canada's greenest-ever leader.
But one could also hear the sting of betrayal in his voice as Mulroney recounted how former Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Clyde Wells cancelled a vote on the Meech Lake Accord in 1990 that would have recognized Quebec as a 'distinct society,' just a day after Mulroney outlined its benefits to the province's legislature.
"I wanted to make the country whole, make the Constitution whole," he said, noting that failing to ratify the accord led to the eventual decision by Quebec's separatist politicians in 1995 to hold a referendum on whether the province should remain in Canada, resulting in a battle that saw Quebec stay part of the country by the narrowest of margins.
At times during the talk, Mulroney sounded like a man still on the hustings as he addressed the splintering of the Tories in the 1990s as the Reform Party took hold in western Canada.
"What did the Reform Party do, but create four Liberal governments?" he said, noting his government created myriad opportunities for the western provinces during his tenure so the split was really unnecessary.
Mulroney also recounted the friendship he enjoyed over the years with former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who often publicly professed his love for his wife Nancy.
"I told him 'you know Ron you're going to have to stop this, you're causing problems for the rest of us. He said 'Brian's that's your problem.'"
But Mulroney also shared how enriched his life has been as a result of a chance meeting with his future wife, the then Mila Pivnički, after she walked by him wearing a bikini as he read a newspaper beside the pool at a Montreal tennis club.
And how has politics most changed since the days he was playing the game?
"When I was in office, there was no Internet, no 24-hour news," Mulroney said, noting he was watching the news with Mila one night at their Montreal home when a newscaster told viewers they could contact him via email.
"I said, 'honey, that's never going to work.'"
Afterwards, Mulroney said he likes what he sees so far in the young life of current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government.
"A new government's got to be given a chance," he said. "I think they're doing well...much better than what's going on in the States."
As for how he would like to remembered by history, Mulroney said he hopes people will say that "he loved Canada and he did his best."