The Comment

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. May he rest in peace

TORONTO – For more than ten years, he was a public figure larger than life itself. He was an agent of substantive change in the legal, legislative and economic factors that had defined the Canadian Federation since its inception.

For those who came to know him, it would have been virtually impossible to repress strong feelings, one way or the other. Today, he is no more.

When Prime Minister Mulroney exited the political stage in 1993, there were only 28 million inhabitants in Canada. Statistically, one third of them have probably, like him, now passed away. Thanks primarily to immigration, the country has added another twelve million people to that 28 million total.

The point is that less than one half of Canadians might have even a distant memory of his impact on our lives. Their, and our, fall-back position is the academic analysis, often coloured by partisan perspective, of his contribution to the Canadian reality we call home.

In that case, we would be shortchanging ourselves. I was first elected in 1988 in the famous free trade election, on opposite sides. My tone, aggrieved and laced with ironic references not designed to heap praise. And so it was on several major themes. I changed my tune for two reasons which showed me a more comprehensive picture of the man.

In mid May of 1989, my dad passed away. After the funeral at our local church some relatives came by my mother’s house to console her. The phone rang. I answered. “This is the Prime Minister’s switchboard”, said the voice on the other line, “is the MP Volpe there, the Prime Minister would like to speak to him. Would you ask him to answer the phone in one minute, please.”

My parents had an unlisted phone number; no one I knew had been told we were stopping by the house. Someone had gone through a lot of trouble to find out. I played along. To my surprise, sure enough, the phone rang again. “Hi Joe. Brian here”…I interrupted with “Mr. Prime Minister”… “Oh stop it. It’s Brian calling to offer condolences, if you will accept them. ‘Of course, thank you’ …More importantly, extend them to your mother. She needs them and your strength by her side, during these tough moments more than ever”.

Classy. Never thought I would concede that. None of the leadership in my own party did that.

But he was not a weak man. When his policies attracted vitriol from all sides, some of the satirical Press took aim at his family. One particularly scurrilous piece of trash launched a campaign offering a prize to whatever scum could foist his attentions on Mulroney’s young teen-age daughter. Most of us were scandalized.

Mulroney went public with a reaction that went something like this: “Makes you want to go and get a gun to teach this piece of dirt a lesson”. The number of people in my own caucus who voiced support by offering to line up as volunteers to pull the trigger for him was astounding.

In the intervening thirty years since then, I had occasion to meet him several times. With his effusiveness he tried to hide the obvious: he was not aging well… but never say never.

I can just imagine him at the Pearly gates arguing with St. Peter about the seating arrangements: what do you mean the seat at His right hand is already taken?

Condolences to his family and friends. May Brian R.I.P.

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