Martin Brian Mulroney (born March 20, 1939) is a Canadian politician who served as the 18th prime minister of Canada from September 17, 1984, to June 25, 1993. His tenure as prime minister was marked by the introduction of major economic reforms, such as the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the Goods and Services Tax. Prior to his political career, he was a prominent lawyer and businessman in Montreal. He later ran for the Progressive Conservatives and won in a landslide in the 1984 Canadian federal election, defeating John Turner of the Liberals and Ed Broadbent of the NDP, not only winning every single province and territory but also capturing over 50% of the vote for the first time since 1958 and increasing his party’s seats by 111, up to 211 seats, the highest amount of seats won by any party in Canadian history. The 6.3 million votes won by Mulroney also remained a record until the Liberals’ victory in 2015. Throughout his political career, Mulroney’s fluency in English and French gave him a decisive advantage.He brought forth a constitutional reform, the Meech Lake Accord, in 1987, meant to persuade the government of Quebec to endorse the 1982 constitutional amendments. It was not ratified by the provincial governments of Manitoba and Newfoundland before the June ratification deadline, and thus met its demise in 1990. This loss led to another round of meetings in Charlottetown in 1991 and 1992. These negotiations culminated in Mulroney introducing the Charlottetown Accord, which would create extensive changes to the constitution, including recognition of Quebec as a distinct society. However, the agreement was defeated by a large margin in a national referendum in October 1992. Many blamed the GST battle and Mulroney’s rising unpopularity for the fall of the Accord. The end of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990 created division in the country and sparked a revival of Quebec separatism, culminating in the creation and rise of the Bloc Quebecois (BQ).In foreign policy, Mulroney opposed the apartheid regime in South Africa and he met with many of the regime’s opposition leaders throughout his tenure. His position put him at odds with the American and British governments, but also won him respect elsewhere. He led the Western response to the 1984–1985 famine in Ethiopia, to strong public reaction. Canada’s response was overwhelming and led the US and Britain to follow suit almost immediately — an unprecedented situation in foreign affairs at that time in a country that had previously been isolated by Western governments. The Mulroney government was also strongly against the U.S. intervention in Nicaragua under Reagan, and accepted refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and other countries with repressive regimes that were supported by the Reagan administration. On December 2, 1991, Canada became the first Western nation to recognize Ukraine as an independent country, next day after the landslide referendum in favor of independence in Ukraine.
During his first term, the Air India Flight 182 bombing occurred. This was the largest terrorist act of the time, with the majority of the 329 victims being Canadian citizens. Mulroney sent a letter of condolence to then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, which sparked an uproar in Canada since he did not call families of the actual victims to offer condolences. Gandhi replied that he should be the one providing condolences to Mulroney, given that the majority of victims were Canadians. There were several warnings from the Indian government to the Mulroney government about terrorist threats towards Air India flights, which arised questions remain as to why these warnings were not taken more seriously and whether the events leading to the bombing could have been prevented.On the environment, Mulroney made it a key focus of his government, and moved Canada to become the first industrialized country to ratify both the biodiversity convention and the climate change convention, which were agreed to at the United Nations Conference on the Environment. His government added significant new national parks (Bruce Peninsula, South Moresby, and Grasslands) and passed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. In response to the decline of cod in Atlantic Canada, the Mulroney government imposed a moratorium on the cod fishery there, putting an end to a large portion of the Newfoundland fishing industry. This caused rising economic hardship. His government instituted various programs designed to mitigate these problems, but still started to become deeply unpopular in the Atlantic provinces.
On social issues, Mulroney opposed capital punishment and attempted a compromise on abortion, to the dismay of social conservatives.Mulroney’s second term was marked by an economic recession. He proposed the introduction of a national sales tax, the Goods and Services Tax (GST). When it was introduced in 1991, it replaced the Manufacturers’ Sales Tax (MST), which was previously applied to goods manufactured in Canada. This was contentious among the Senate, and public polling showed that as many as 80% of Canadians were opposed to it. Mulroney then used Section 26, a Constitutional provision, to allow him in an emergency situation to ask the Queen to appoint 8 new Senators. Although the government argued that the tax was not a tax increase, but a tax shift, the highly visible nature of the tax was extremely unpopular, and many resented Mulroney’s use of an “emergency” clause in the constitution. Fiscal conservatives likewise did not approve of Mulroney’s tax increases and his failure to curtail expansion of “big government” programs and political patronage. This caused a stark decline in Mulroney’s popularity, which induced him to resign and hand over his power to Kim Campbell, who became the 19th Prime Minister of Canada on June 25, 1993.
Brian Mulroney is also particularly famous for delivering one of the few “knockout blows” in Canadian debate history by commenting “You had an option, sir” over John Turner’s appointments. Turner froze and wilted under this withering riposte from Mulroney, and only could repeat “I had no option.” A visibly angry Mulroney then called this “an avowal of failure” and “a confession of non-leadership”.
Mulroney’s legacy is complicated and even emotional. Mulroney makes the case that his once-radical policies on the economy and free trade were not reversed by subsequent governments, and regards this as vindication. His Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski made a claim that his greatest accomplishment will be seen as, “Dragging Canada kicking and screaming into the 21st century.” Military historians Norman Hillmer and J.L. Granatstein ranked Mulroney eighth among Canada’s prime ministers in their 1999 book Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada’s Leaders. Former Bloc Québécois leader Michel Gauthier considered Brian Mulroney to be the greatest prime minister Canada has known in the last 50 years due to its political projects taken by him such as Meech Lake accord, the fight against apartheid, an economic project, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and a fiscal project, which was to put the finances of the state back in order, and also pointed out that there was no constitutional quarrel between the federal and Quebec Government. In 2006, he was proclaimed Canada’s greenest prime minister by a survey of environmentalists, due to his efforts such as the Canada-U.S. acid rain treaty, an ambitious environmental agenda, the creation of eight new national parks, and the ratification of the Environmental Protection Act. Mulroney’s image later improved from his bitter unpopularity during tenure and is now generally ranked as one of Canada’s best prime ministers.