View From the Legislature

Remembering Prime Minister Mulroney

  • Kelvin Goertzen, Author
  • Member of the Legislative Assembly, Steinbach

It’s well understood that prominent political figures are often better regarded the further away they are from elected office. This no doubt is because time often offers perspective and like in most aspects of life, political emotions tend to diminish over time. Those may be some of the reasons why Brian Mulroney, who was so unpopular when he left office as Canada’s 18th Prime Minister, received so many accolades and tributes when Canadians learned of his passing earlier this week.

But it is more than just the passage of time that has reset the legacy of Brian Mulroney. Many of the decisions that he made in office, and which were controversial at the time, are today seen as prudent and bold. In a time of politics when caution trumps boldness, many of his achievements stand out.

Chief among them is the Canada- U.S. Free Trade Agreement and its successor, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Canada- U.S. Free Trade Agreement is today seen not as selling Canada out (as was once feared), but rather as being an economic foundation for our country. And while today there are many concerns and disputes about trade between our nations, those early trade agreements are universally recognized as being good for Canada.

Mulroney was also praised as being a central player in helping to end apartheid in South Africa. The fact that Nelson Mandela visited Canada shortly after his release from prison was seen as a tribute to the key role that Mulroney had played in ensuring international pressure helped to end apartheid.

He has also been seen as a leader who took early and important steps to protect the environment. This included agreements with the United States to reduce pollution levels and deal with concerns about acid rain.

And even issues that angered Canadians at the time, like the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax which was seen as a measure to deal with the country’s deficit and debt, have over time lost much of their political heat. Yet, those who have memory of Mr. Mulroney’s tenure know that many of his decisions caused alienation in the West that lasted for many years and manifested itself in political parties like the Reform Party. As a young person, many of those concerns resonated with me.

However, history has treated Mr. Mulroney well and he has become a respected statesman. More than just because of the policies outlined, this is perhaps because he had a reputation of treating others well, including political adversaries. He was known for making personal phone calls, writing notes and reaching out to people in difficult times. While I never personally met Mr. Mulroney, I have had the opportunity over the years to listen to people like former Member of Parliament Jake Epp and former PC Leader Stuart Murray who both worked with the former Prime Minister. In listening to them and to others it is clear that Mr. Mulroney demonstrated a kindness and consideration that garnered loyalty and respect from those who knew him.

The loss of a Prime Minister often causes the public to reflect and to remember. For Mr. Mulroney, the years that have passed since his time in office have been kind to his legacy. Perhaps it is fitting that a person who seemed to offer kindness to many, has had that kindness returned to him.