Brian Mulroney: My political and literary mentor
Date: Monday, September 10 2007
My old friend Brian Mulroney is back in the news.
I should first of all explain this is a rather one sided relationship as he doesn’t know I exist, but I know him more than I would like to. Brian and I go back to the time of the free trade debate right around 1987.
I had always had a casual interest in politics and come from a family where there were many lively discussions around the kitchen table on issues of the day. When my buddy Brian arrived on the scene I started following politics much more closely. You might say he drove me to writing and galvanized my interest in politics. He turned me into an anti-free trade activist-at least free trade as he and his buddies defined it which is really a slur on the term.
Reading up on politics is like getting hooked on a sordid soap opera. You have trouble pulling away from it even though it is a somewhat masochistic activity, such that you end up running for parliament yourself- but that is another story for another time. Writing about it is also problematic, for as they say, once you see your name in print you’re hooked.
Thanks to Brian I have a part time career as one of the country’s least known, under paid, under read and under published political commentators. But what the hell, I love writing and I am having fun.
Also, thanks to Brian, since he came on the scene I am much more discerning in what I read and believe.
I wrote him a letter after his massive first victory congratulating him and assuring him that he if was truly a moderate conservative his victory could be the beginning of a new political dynasty. Even though I was not of his political persuasion I felt it was healthy for our country and our democracy the jaded Liberals spend some time in opposition.
He never phoned and never wrote so I can only assume my letter never got past his correspondence secretary and he never received my bounteous unsolicited advice. Such is the case: The course of Canadian history was not to be influenced!
These salubrious feelings did not last long as there was a little article in the Globe and Mail soon after suggesting the Mulroney conservatives had a secret agenda. Then there were rumours of a free trade agreement with the US and of course it turned out to be so, even though Brian and most of his key cabinet ministers were on record prior to their election as being against a free trade agreement. Being elected some how allowed them a sudden conversion, even though Canada already had a vigorous and mutually beneficial free trade relationship with the US-in the true sense of the term.
Of course the rest is history, the FTA was slipped by the Canadian electorate, it became the NAFTA and now it is mutating into Deep Integration, North American Union the Security and Prosperity Partnership and various other grandiose political perversions.
Brian’s genius is that he put together a massive coalition and won the largest Parliamentary majority in Canadian history. His utter failure was that he couldn’t keep this coalition together and establish an enduring conservative dominance of federal politics much like the Liberals as the NGP-Natural Governing Party. Instead of replacing the Liberals as the NGP he destroyed the Progressive Conservative Party, split the right and awarded the Chretien Liberals successive easy victories.
He became unwitting godfather to both the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois; the bastard children of his mismanagement.
But of course this story doesn’t end there. With the right split between the PCP lead by the feckless Peter MacKay and the Alliance(originally the Reform) lead by wannabe Stephen Harper these two parties had to become one as they were an embarrassment and mute testimony to Brian’s political failures. So he became marriage broker, convincing Mackay to betray a convention promise and fold the PCP in to the Alliance.
Now here I use the word “fold” very deliberately as this was not a unifying of the right but the destruction of a party, the Progressive Conservative Party- the death knell of Canada’s own brand of conservatism which also might be termed Red Toryism. There can be no doubt this new party now governing our country is dominated by what was the Alliance.
In the life of Brian this new party is very much to his liking. As even though he led Canadians to believe he was a conservative in the Red Tory tradition he was more accurately a proto-neo-conservative, a forerunner of politicians to come.
Brian’s mentorship also got me reading the constitution. His plan for the country was to overhaul both our economic and political constitutions, after the FTA came the Meech Lake Accord. Where Trudeau was the federalist, Mulroney was the anti-federalist.
He is presently accusing former PM Pierre Trudeau of destroying the MLA out of jealously that he, Brian Mulroney, might succeed where Trudeau had failed in bringing Quebec into the constitution.
This has to be a gloriously false claim as there is one undeniable fact- Trudeau was a federalist who believed in a strong central government and the MLA was designed to diminish federal powers, transferring them to the provinces, specifically Quebec which already had a well defined special status within Confederation not enjoyed by other provinces- our asymmetrical federalism. It was to be expected that Trudeau a federalist, who would not pander to Quebec separatists, would oppose the MLA. He saw it for what it was- incremental separation.
It was also written at the time Trudeau felt betrayed as even though he was succeeded by Mulroney’s conservatives he felt confident federalism was in safe hands with this new government.
Brian’s former close friend and colleague Lucien Bouchard is also receiving a ripping over for his supposed betrayal, storming out of the House of Commons on the eve of the collapse of the MLA and forming the Bloc Quebecois.
Here again Mulroney cries foul when he was the one who took in known Quebec nationalists, Bouchard foremost among them, as part of his winning coalition.
When Lucien Bouchard stormed out of the Commons and formed the BQ separatist party he did Canadians a favour. He revealed once and for all the Meech Lake Accord had real value for the separatist movement as they no doubt saw it as a stepping stone to complete separation. Bouchard also legitimized Trudeau’s concerns regarding the Accord.
It would make an interesting historical investigation to find out what sort of quid pro quo existed between Mulroney and the nationalists in his Quebec caucus. Was there a deal made? - Participation in the coalition in return for constitutional favours. Bouchard’s rude departure and the PM’s penchant for backroom deals suggests just such a deal existed and there was a failure to deliver the goods.
It is interesting the former PM blames fellow politicos for the failure of the MLA. One of the primary reasons for its failure was the process, as it was seriously flawed and his government set the process. Oddly, there is no sense of closure for him as Meech was succeeded by Meech II in the form of the Charlottetown Accord. The CA was repudiated by the Canadian electorate in a national referendum. Even so he insists on having the final word on an issue long closed.
We are told that Brian is an advisor to the Harper government and this is entirely appropriate as Harper like Mulroney is an anti-federalist. Harper, as leader of the Alliance was a signator to the famous Alberta firewall letter. The letter sent to then Alberta premier Ralph Klein in 2001 was a manifesto for provincial supremacy. Much like Quebec separatism it proposed a raiding of federal powers.
As prime minister, Harper has shown he is much like Mulroney in that he is more than willing to pander to Quebec separatist aspirations for electoral advantage. Harper knows that if he is to escape the scourge of minority government he has to gain seats in Quebec. Where Mulroney went into an ill-advised coalition with Quebec nationalists, Harper’s ploy was to grant that province nation status. Of course this was merely a “symbolic” gesture, but there are already rumblings Quebec is going to insist this new status becomes substantive. In other words, get ready for a new round of constitutional warfare should Harper ever gain a majority.
Like Mulroney before him Quebec separatists have Harper by the throat and some latter day Lucien Bouchard is going to insist Quebec’s newly minted nation status be given real meaning. While Harper, the anti-federalist, will no doubt be willing to accommodate them the ROC (Rest of Canada) might be roused to object and there will be a pandemic of constitutional déjà vu.
The renowned French artist Marcel Duchamp constructed an assemblage from 1915-23 which he entitled The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors. I often find my self turning this title into Canada Stripped Bare by Her Politicos. Our politicos seem to think this country can survive any amount of Deep Integration, North American Union, anti-federalism and pandering to Quebec separatism. They are, it seems, quite willing to strip away the cloak of nationhood with their heedless indifference.
Our politicos for the most part suffer a colonial mindset. They appear increasingly idiotic and irrelevant as rather than acting like leaders of a sovereign nation they become surrogate managers to the interests of others exercising a listless and uninspired pragmatism.
Somewhere, somehow this mentorship has gone horribly wrong. After a briefly acceptable beginning Brian and I have very different recollections of past events and hold very divergent views on what it is to be a Canadian.
Will I be buying a copy of his memoirs? Not likely. The hagiographic tomes of self-aggrandizing retired politicians writing revisionist history and seeking vindication are not on my reading list.
Maybe though, it is time he and I, as two over ripe Canadians(he more so than I), sit down at the proverbial kitchen table and discuss the issues of the day, no dice, maybe a bottle of scotch, and a table of substantial planking.
Robert Billyard ©