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by Sid Ryan

The salacious new book by Peter C. Newman about his erstwhile friend, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, sheds new light into the heart and soul of the country’s most unloved politician of the past century. It helps us understand the deep visceral dislike most Canadians felt toward him during his years in the highest office of the land. The book takes the reader on a rare odyssey through the corridors of power in Ottawa with detours into the mindset of this rich and powerful politician. Rarely have we witnessed such a degree of foulness and profanity deliberately spewed into a tape recorder to be preserved for Canadian posterity. 

Mulroney did not save his scurrility for his political foes alone. Even poor ol’ Kim Campbell was castigated by Mulroney for losing the 1993 election because “she’s been screwing around with this Russian guy.” To be fair to Campbell, the Tories were going to lose the 1993 campaign regardless of her shenanigans with her Russian lover. Even if she had drafted the entire Russian Army into her campaign as volunteers, the voters were going to exact revenge on the Irish braggart from Baie-Comeau.

Mulroney need look no further then the bathroom mirror to discover the architect of his party’s colossal defeat in 1993. He has never understood how much his government’s policies hurt the average working Canadian and the impact on this country’s social security net.

Take free trade, for example. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives studied 39 large corporations between the years 1988 and 2002 to ascertain how much revenue they generated during this period and whether the workforce grew or shrank. The results are startling. Fourteen corporations increased their workforce by 97, 267 employees, but 25 corporations decreased by a staggering 197, 535 employees. Overall, the 39 corporations increased revenue by $144 billion. All this happened despite the promises from Mulroney that good paying manufacturing jobs would not be lost to free trade.

The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) also gave the U.S. access to our energy resources even in times of shortage at home, without winning any concessions in return. Ray Hnatyshyn Mulroney’s energy minister at the time and later Canada’s governor general said, “free trade in energy is like wife swapping with a bachelor.” The Free Trade Agreement was supposed to provide Canada with protection from American tariffs through a dispute-settling mechanism. We all know today that whole section of the FTA is a farce — witness the softwood lumber dispute. Clayton Yeutter, chief U.S. trade representative, confirmed Canada was suckered when he said in an unguarded moment that “the Canadians don’t know what they’ve signed. In 20 years they’ll be sucked into the American economy.”

The harmonization of social programs between the U.S. and Canada began almost immediately after the FTA was signed. Social spending on programs dropped by a dramatic 10.2% of GDP between 1992 and 2002 — a total of $ 55 billion in 2001 alone. These spending cuts directly impacted the quality of life for Canada’s most
vulnerable people. (We won’t forget, however, that Mulroney was just blazing a trail for Paul Martin, who made the deepest cuts of all as finance minister. But, that’s another column.)

Despite the anger and political backlash he generated with his free trade policy, it was nothing compared to the outright hostility generated by his buffoonery in pitching the Meech Lake Accord to Canadians. Mulroney with all his braggadocio blew up his delicate coalition of first ministers by boasting to the media that he had selected — a month in advance — a date for the premiers to meet where he was going to “roll the dice” on Meech Lake Accord.   This was widely construed as a willingness to play Russian roulette with Canada’s future.

Meech Lake predictably went down in flames and with it the hopes of another majority Conservative government. Mulroney’s gamble led to the break-up of his conservative coalition. Lucien Bouchard fled the party to form the Bloc Quebecois and Preston Manning burst onto the national stage with his slogan “the West wants in.”

Mulroney can blame Kim Campbell and her Russian lover for the defeat of his Conservatives in 1993 but we all know it was a combination of free trade, Russian roulette and Irish bravado that did him in.