Mulroney unplugged: A former PM's thoughts on Quebec, Trudeau and the legacy of free trade
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney came to Toronto on Tuesday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the free trade agreement he negotiated with the United States in 1987. Before his speech, he met with The Globe and Mail's editorial board. Speaking quietly at first, Mr. Mulroney grew more voluble and emphatic when he talked about his political rivals and his legacy. Otherwise, he was convivial, occasionally self-deprecating. By the end of the hour, he was telling stories like in the old days.
People who underestimate him do so at their peril. The apple doesn't fall very fall from the tree. He has some of the grit of his dad, and he's obviously got some of the qualities required to win election.
You can be the greatest guy or woman in the world, but if you can't win an election, you aren't going to do very much for your party and you aren't going to get the right [to run the country] because history is written by the victors.
If you go back and look at the debates that I had with [Liberal prime minster John Turner during the 1988 election], not a single, solitary thing that he said has turned out to be true. Nothing that he forecast, not one [thing], not a sliver of one turned out to be accurate.
We have become wealthier as a country, and because we have become wealthier, we have become stronger economically, and because we are stronger economically, we are more solid as a nation. Strong central governments only exist with strong balance sheets behind them.
The attitudinal change is no less important than the economic change. Canadians are now outward-looking, positive and happy warriors around the world, competing with everybody and winning.
THE LIBERAL PARTY
They face an intellectual challenge, a policy challenge, a structural challenge and they are up against two very tough, experienced, able politicians who aren't going to let them get away with anything.
If I were a Liberal strategist, I'd say, 'What the hell happened?'
There's all kinds of blaming to do. The first was the decision to proceed with the National Energy Program, which wiped the Liberals out in western Canada. They have never come back.
The second was the decision to repatriate unilaterally the Constitution in 1981 over the objections of the federalists and the separatists in the Quebec National Assembly. The day that that decision was taken, the Liberals had 74/75 seats in the House of Commons, and they have gone down in a steady unbroken line from 74 out of 75 seats in Quebec to seven seats in the last election.
If you want to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room, go ahead, but those are the two gorillas that the Liberal Party has to deal with before you can clear the decks and start making a comeback
THE NATIONAL ENERGY PROGRAM
The NEP, it can be argued, looted the Alberta treasury of $100-billion. Why? To artificially subsidize consumers in Ontario and Quebec. Why? For political reasons, to sustain the votes here. This was unfair, this was wrong.
THE UNITED NATIONS
John Baird is an activist foreign affairs minister, and I think in many areas he is doing a very good job. He speaks the truth, he speaks out, and you don't have to agree with him all the time to know that he stands for something.
My own view is that Canada benefited enormously from the existence of the United Nations and it enhanced our capacity to promulgate our views and defend our principles and ideals around the world. Try to imagine the world without it.
We don't have the strength to impose our will or get our way bilaterally at all times. We need the instruments of international harmony. I know that when Canada was defeated for a seat on the security council [in 2010], it understandably irritated a lot of people.
The fact that the General Assembly of the United Nations takes these looney tunes positions against Israel all the time, which I completely repudiate, makes them look needlessly foolish, by this kind of juvenile delinquency. Understandably, the Harper government and Mr. Baird react very strongly to this. All that said, Israel is still a member. Why? Because they have to be there. And if you are going to be there, you should try to make it as strong and perfect as you can.
HIS ADVICE ABOUT QUEBEC
[Prime Minister Stephen] Harper would be wise to keep his head down on this and see how it evolves. They know there is going to be an election in very short order. This minority government is not going to last forever.
She is a good person. She is a sensible person and she is smart, but she is going to have to stand back and ask where do these [economic policies and tax cuts] leave the whole province?
HIS ECONOMIC LEGACY
[Former Liberal prime minister Jean] Chrétien [his successor as PM] played a key role because he could have gone back to where he was [as finance minister for Pierre Trudeau] or he could have accepted the general parameters and outlines of what we had initiated. He chose to follow that, so he established the principle of continuity, which was then followed by [Paul] Martin and Mr. Harper.
So for 30 years, Canada was unique in the industrialized world in avoiding the quixotic lurches from left to right and up and down in economic policy. Four prime ministers followed essentially the same economic polices. That played a significant role in the economic success that Mr. Harper was able to expand upon when the world came to Toronto for the G8 and G20.
HIMSELF AFTER POLITICS
As time goes by, the old mind isn't as sharp as I used to think it was."
You have visions when you are elected, you have a views when you are a taxpayer.