Former Canadian P.M. Mulroney Blasts Old Colleagues
For a dozen years, since Brian Mulroney left politics and returned to Montreal, he has tried to recast his record and rehabilitate his reputation. He has had the time and space that former leaders need to put between themselves and their people and their prejudices.
Leaders who may have been unpopular when they left office, such as Pierre Elliott Trudeau, often grow in stature. A man detested is now a man revered; when he died five years ago, Canadians grieved. Mr. Trudeau has become a national icon. Lester Pearson, his predecessor, could never win a majority in four elections. He was seen as plodding, innocuous and ineffective in 1968. Today the lisping, bow-tied Mr. Pearson is remembered as a conciliator and a reformer who gave Canada a new flag, universal healthcare and international respect.
Unlike Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Mulroney cared what people thought, which was his undoing. As prime minister, he devoured forests of newspaper commentary about his government, courted journalists shamelessly and took criticism badly. He was known to press a transistor radio to his ear for the late-night news. "So, what are the boys saying?" he would ask his press secretary.
When he left Ottawa in 1993, he decided that he would not write his memoirs immediately, as had Mr. Pearson and others; he would wait for his image to improve. He began looking for an historian to help him, but delayed the project.
His caution was prudent. Few leaders were reviled as he was in his last years in office. His Conservatives were destroyed and national politics re-aligned. There were even reports -- perhaps apocryphal in genteel Canada -- that Mr. Mulroney was booed when he entered restaurants.
At least that seemed possible until yesterday, when excerpts from Peter C. Newman's new book, The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister, were published. It is perhaps the most explosive book on a Canadian politician since Mr. Newman's portrait of John Diefenbaker in 1963.
What makes it incendiary isn't its research, analysis or prose. It is the words of the subject himself. The book is a stream of consciousness flowing from the mouth that roared. Mulroney does in himself -- and the reputation he has tried to restore over the last 12 years -- with the kind of crudeness, vainglory, egotism, indiscretion, pomposity and hyperbole that have been the hallmark of his public life.
His acidic comments on Pierre Trudeau, Kim Campbell, Clyde Wells, Joe Clark, Jean Chretien and others lay bare the insecurity, anger and resentment that have come to define him. For those who remember Mr. Mulroney, the book is a sad reminder of why they disliked and distrusted him.
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Ron Edward Bezant - 9/17/2005
I agree with the reference to Pierre Trudeau as an a-hole, as maintained by Nixon and Mulroney. He pulled an idiotic schoolboy prank on Canada and destroyed it in the process.
Kenneth T. Tellis - 9/14/2005
How can anyone have the gall to think of Lester Pearson and rate him with other Prime Ministers of Canada. Lester Pearson could not make a decision without asking his wife to give him permission. I do not think that Brian Mulroney with all his faults was so incapable of making any decision.
As for Pearson's Nobel Peace Prize, even that idea was stolen from a career Canadian army officer who was teaching at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario.
Everyone knows the leftist leanings of Pearson and the mysterious death of Canadian ambassador Norman in Cairo, Egypt.
For all his weaknesses, Brian Mulroney (and President Richard Nixon) were spot on, when they called Pierre-Elliott Trudeau the a--hole, which he really was.
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