MPs pay tribute to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, lion of Canadian politics

MPs pay tribute to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, lion of Canadian politics
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
A photograph and book of condolences for members of Parliament to sign are seen in front of the official portrait of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, in the antechamber to the House of Commons on Parliament Hill as Canadians mourn his death on Thursday at the age of 84, in Ottawa, Friday, March 1, 2024.

Members of Parliament paid tribute Monday to the late Brian Mulroney, whom they lauded as a lion of Canadian politics, a down-to-earth spirit and, above all else, a family man.

They stood in solemn reflection in the House of Commons in remembrance of the former prime minister of Canada who died last month.

As his wife Mila and their children Nicholas, Mark, Ben and Caroline looked on from the gallery above, leaders and MPs across the partisan spectrum expressed fond memories and admiration for the political giant.

The House of Commons ground to a halt when news reached the chamber on Feb. 29, just hours after his death.

Mulroney, who led the country as a Progressive Conservative prime minister from 1984 until 1993, died in Florida at the age of 84. Tributes have poured in ever since from politicians past and present.

When parliamentarians returned to the Commons on Monday after a two-week break, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the first to speak about Mulroney’s legacy in what is expected to be a weeklong remembrance of the former prime minister, culminating in a state funeral Saturday.

“This will not be the last week that Canadians will quote him, remember his example, be inspired by his service. It is not just his booming baritone that will forever echo in this chamber, but his values and his leadership,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau said Mulroney was “one of the lions of Canadian politics,” and reminisced about spending time with him last year in Nova Scotia on a tour of Mulroney Hall.

As they walked through a replica of the prime minister’s Centre Block office, they reflected on the “wisdom that he and my dad both shared, that leadership, fundamentally, is about getting the big things right, no matter what your political stripe or your style,” Trudeau said.

Mulroney also knew how to win, Trudeau said with a smile, “and he certainly enjoyed it.”

From the gallery, Mulroney’s family members smiled, too, as Trudeau explained that Mulroney was mainly motivated by service.

As prime minister, Mulroney championed free trade and ushered in the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1988, the precursor to the North American Free Trade Agreement that took effect in 1994. Many Canadians also remember him for bringing in the GST.

But it was his “down-to-earth spirit” that Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said exemplified Mulroney’s approach to the job.

He told the story about meeting a mechanic in Ottawa whose father was a miner with the Iron Ore Company of Canada, when Mulroney served as its president.

Decades later, when the mechanic’s father died, Mulroney called the family, Poilievre said.

“What is so incredible about that phone call is that in interim period, Brian Mulroney fought two leadership races, won two majority governments, shook hands and spent time with presidents, kings, queens and other prime ministers, negotiated free-trade deals, watched the end of the Cold War, sent our troops into the Persian Gulf,” he said.

“And with all that passing through his mind, he still remembered the miner from the Iron Ore Company.

“That is kindness. That is humility.”

Mulroney will be remembered as a great Canadian, a great Quebecer and a great prime minister, said Louis Plamondon, who was elected as an MP in Mulroney’s party the year he became prime minister.

But the Bloc QuĂ©bĂ©cois MP will remember Mulroney “first and foremost” as a family man, Plamondon said in French, offering his condolences to Mulroney’s wife and children.

“He loved Mila, his wife and lifelong companion. He was so proud of his children, and he cherished his role as a grandfather,” he said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he hopes Mulroney’s family finds some comfort in the many memories being shared about him.

Mulroney denounced the injustices of apartheid, Singh said, and helped preserve the social fabric of Canada.

Singh also lauded the former prime minister’s environmental record and work to reduce pollution that found its way into Canadian rivers, lakes and forests.

“At a time of more heightened divisions, where some political leaders try to score points by pitting one group of people against another, Mr. Mulroney will be remembered as someone who tried to build unity,” Singh said.

Mulroney’s sons spoke to reporters after the display and expressed their gratitude.

“Hearing everybody speak so positively is probably not what he was used to, but he would have loved it and we did as well,” said Mark Mulroney with a laugh.

He and his brothers expressed special thanks to Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party.

“Brian Mulroney literally saved all life on Earth when Canada stood up and organized the Montreal Protocol and saved the ozone layer,” May said as part of an animated speech.

May said she was grateful and honoured to be Mulroney’s friend. Much as his environmental legacy was part of that, he also had a knack for making her laugh, she said, causing his family to chuckle.

“I loved his jokes so much.”

Mulroney’s casket is expected to arrive in Ottawa on Tuesday, where he will lie in state for two days so the public can pay their respects.

The former prime minister will also lie in repose at Montreal’s St. Patrick’s Basilica on Thursday and Friday.

Dignitaries, including the Governor General and Trudeau, are set to offer condolences to the Mulroney family Tuesday morning.

A state funeral will be held Saturday morning at Notre-Dame Basilica, with eulogies from Caroline Mulroney, Jean Charest and Wayne Gretzky.

By Laura Osman and Alessia Passafiume, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2024.

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