In 1974-75 Mulroney won public attention as an articulate and hard-hitting member of the Cliche Commission on violence and corruption in the construction industry in Québec. By now he was the leading Conservative organizer and fund-raiser in the province. Despite never having run for office, he was a strong candidate for the leadership of the federal party in 1976, finally being eliminated on the third ballot. He became VP of Iron Ore Company in 1976; as president 1977-83 he emphasized management-labour relations and was able, at the end of his term, to close the company's operation in Schefferville, Québec, without serious political repercussions. Mulroney again ran for the PC leadership in 1983, a low-key effort in response to charges that his 1976 campaign had been too slick and showy. He beat Joe CLARK on the final ballot: 1584 votes to 1325.
As leader of the Opposition and MP for Central Nova in 1983-84, he proved a skilful manager, concentrating on healing party wounds and building a solid electoral machine. Moderate and conciliatory by nature, he called for a strengthened private sector and less government intervention in the economy, minority French-language rights, and closer Canadian-American and federal-provincial relations. In the general election of 1984 he ran an almost flawless campaign against PM John Turner's Liberals and won 211 seats, the largest number in Canadian history. Mulroney, who had always emphasized the importance of Québec to the Conservatives, captured the seat of Manicouagan, his home riding. His pledge to bring Quebec to the Constitution "with honour and enthusiasm" was decisive in persuading many Quebec nationalists to support the Conservatives. The party took 58 of its seats in the province, the breakthrough that Mulroney had promised would take place under his leadership. He was sworn in as the 18th prime minister on 17 September 1984.
The first 2 years of Mulroney's administration were marked by indecision and scandals in his Cabinet, but by the spring of 1987 he had launched the 2 important initiatives that would mark his first term: the negotiation of the MEECH LAKE ACCORD (see MEECH LAKE ACCORD: DOCUMENT) and the conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement with the US, which was reached that October. The FTA became the central issue in the 1988 federal election, and the Conservatives overcame a resurgent Liberal Party around whom opposition to the FTA coalesced. The FTA went into effect 1 January 1989. However, the Meech Lake Accord slowly unravelled, and its collapse in June 1990 was at least partly attributed to Mulroney's widely quoted "roll of the dice" in scheduling the final first ministers' conference so close to the deadline. His government reached a new low in popularity with the imposition of the new Goods and Services Tax (GST), which went into effect 1 January 1991. Mulroney had to stack the Senate with supporters in order to get the bill through the upper house.
Critics blamed the severity of the recession of the early 1990s on the FTA, but the Conservatives continued their policy of open trade and negotiated a North American free- trade agreement which this time included Mexico. Mulroney's popularity according to the polls was lower than that of any other prime minister in history as he attempted to arrange yet another constitutional pact in the fall of 1992. The so-called CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD (see CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD: DOCUMENT) was pieced together after numerous commissions and negotiations, but it was rejected in a nation-wide referendum.
After much speculation, Mulroney announced his decision to leave politics in February 1993. Despite his skill in putting together a coalition of Quebeckers and Westerners and in uniting the traditionally fractious Conservative Party, Mulroney's constitutional failures, the economic problems brought on by the persistent recession, the lingering bitterness over the GST and his personal unpopularity had made his political future and that of his party look bleak. He turned over the office of prime minister to Kim Campbell on June 25, 1993. His Conservative coalition disintegrated in the 1993 election. Only two Conservatives were elected in all Canada and the party lost its status as an official party in the House of Commons. Many blamed Mulroney's failures and his personal unpopularity for the most unprecedented disaster in Canadian political history. In June 1997 the federal Liberal government apologized to Mulroney for the false accusations that he had committed fraud in the Airbus scandal. In 1998, Mulroney became chairman of Forbes Global Business and Finance, the English-language international edition of Forbes magazine, and he was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada.
Author NORMAN HILLMER
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Conservative Party of Canada
The official website for the Conservative Party of Canada.
First Among Equals
Learn about the private lives and political careers of Canada’s Prime Ministers. Includes biographies, speeches, and other historical documents. A Library and Archives Canada website.
The Hill Times
The website for the Canadian newsweekly "The Hill Times." Features news and opinion about Canadian federal politics.
Constitutional Discord: Meech Lake
A great collection of old news videos featuring former Canadian political leaders debating the pros and cons of the Meech Lake accord. A CBC Archives website.
A CBC News feature about investigations regarding the financial relationship between former prime minister Brian Mulroney and German-born lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber.
The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, 18th Prime Minister of Canada
View an image of the Official Portrait of The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, 18th Prime Minister of Canada. From the Studio Babailov website.
Summer Jobs Series: How summers spent collecting minimum wage shaped the legacies of Brian Mulroney, Paul Martin
An article that highlights some of the gritty summer jobs held by Canadian prime ministers in their younger years. From the National Post.
Allan Gregg: Craig Oliver on Mulroney, Chretien & Harper
Craig Oliver relates his encounters with Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, and Stephen Harper. From TVO.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...