Tom Mulcair: Brian Mulroney had a sincere desire to improve the lives of average people like him

Brian Mulroney was unique. Gregarious, thoughtful and friendly, he never forgot his modest roots. In fact, it was those roots that gave him the ability to speak with everyone, from the most powerful to the most humble.

His achievements are many, both here at home and internationally. It is with the benefit of time and hindsight that those discoveries are beginning to receive the fair reading they deserve.

Mulroney was always interested in politics. Heck, he met former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker when he was still a teenager! But it is why he liked politics so much that is worth remembering. He had a sincere desire to improve the lives of average people like himself and felt that Canada could and should do better on the world stage.

Mulroney could light up a room, something I saw with a group of other young lawyers in Montreal during his successful election in 1984. His speech was powerful but not over the top. He was confident but never cocky and knew how to connect. He always made it a point to keep in touch with everyone in his Rolodex and had a great memory for names and faces.

Mulroney’s Irish roots are a big part of his personality. Growing up on Quebec’s lower north shore, his Irish Catholic background made it easy for him to connect with the French majority in his town. His chatterbox and easy-going charm would open doors for her throughout Quebec, where his French was more than fluent. He was considered one of the “nous,” an attribute that would make him as welcome at a gathering of seniors in a church basement as at a board meeting of a major Quebec Inc. company.

Mulroney’s legacy

He put the country’s finances in order and introduced the much-hated GST, which everyone now realizes was a sound economic decision.

His deep personal connection to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher did not prevent him from challenging them over apartheid, which Mulroney correctly considered a racist aberration. Canada’s strong moral stance on this issue, under Mulroney’s leadership, is something we can still be proud of.

Of course, the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement that foreshadowed NAFTA was one of its most notable achievements. It has not all been smooth sailing, but any fair reading of its history points to an increase in economic activities as a result.

That agreement was a direct result of the excellent personal relationships he had established in the United States over the years. He was able to simply call someone like James Baker and close the deal before the rapidly approaching congressional deadline.

But there was another treaty, less known but of great importance for future generations, and that is the treaty between Canada and the United States on acid rain. During a state visit, Mulroney and then-US President George HW Bush were greeted by angry protesters denouncing government inaction. Mulroney decided to jump into the problem and in doing so showed his “results-oriented” approach to public policy.

He brought together the best minds and with the Americans created the world’s first cap-and-trade system to address the emissions that were destroying our forests. It worked. The results were there. He didn’t just get emotional or give speeches, he focused on the result.

The list of successes from the Mulroney years is quite long. One of his few real setbacks was the failure of his sincere efforts to incorporate Quebec into Canada’s constitution “with honor and enthusiasm.”

The failure of Meech, and later Charlottetown, weighed heavily on him. He was right to try and that failure has echoed for decades. But by trying, he once again showed that fighting for Canada was always his top priority and a very important part of his legacy.

Tom Mulcair was the leader of Canada’s federal New Democratic Party from 2012 to 2017.

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