Ex-Canadian PM Brian Mulroney remembered as champion of democracy

By Chris Benson
Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (L) and U.S. President Ronald Reagan chat outside the White House in Washington on October 3, 1984. UPI File Photo | License Photo

March 1 (UPI) -- Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is being remembered as a champion of democracy and the environment, helping to end the Cold War and reducing acid rain from the United States.

Mulroney died at age 84, his daughter Caroline, a Canadian government official, announced "with great sadness." He had been diagnosed in 2022 with prostate cancer and died in Palm Beach, Fla., after a fall.


"He died peacefully, surrounded by family," she said.

Brian Mulroney -- born March 20, 1939, in Baie-Comeau in the eastern part of the province of Quebec -- was Canada's 18th prime minister. He led Canada through a period of nationalistic growth and a series of industrial deregulation policies, which led to the 1988 Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement, the first of its kind.

His working-class background lead him to a career as labor lawyer before Mulroney got active in business and eventually, politics.


In his book Memoirs, Mulroney wrote how on June 24, 1980 he decided to quit drinking after struggles with alcoholism.

"I suffered from a weakness, an illness and a combination of time and willpower made me better. Not cured, just better," Mulroney wrote. "It also made me extremely sensitive to people with similar problems, and I have met many such in the private sector and during my time as prime minister. I hope that recounting my own battle to overcome the problem was of some assistance to them, just as I hope that this account will help others combat this tough disease."

Mulroney, whose Progressive Conservative party found much common ground with the Ronald Reagan-era Republican Party, had worked closely with the former actor-turned-governor who later became the 40th U.S. president and the two became personal friends

Mulroney, who left office with low approval ratings, had led his party to back-to-back majority federal election victories in 1984 and 1988.

He stepped down as prime minister at age 53 in February 1993 and was replaced by Canada's first woman prime minister, Kim Campbell.

Campbell -- Canada's former defense minister -- said Friday on social media that Mulroney's death was "sad news," calling his "a remarkable and consequential life."


The 1988 Free Trade Agreement with the United States and the North American Free Trade Agreement later negotiated with Mexico and the United States were popular trade deals in Canada, which lowered barriers in trade.

"I was proud to serve in his government. He left a legacy that is appreciated more and more with the passage of time," Campbell said on X.

World reaction

Current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau -- whose father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, played an integral role throughout Mulroney's political career -- said Mulroney "loved Canada."

Mulroney "was at the forefront" on issues such as the environment, helping "secure an air quality agreement with the United States to reduce acid rain, championing the first Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and creating several new national parks," Justin Trudeau said in a statement. "And he exemplified Canadian values, standing up against apartheid in South Africa."

Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Mulroney's premiership "transformational," adding how he "stood for freedom and democracy on the world stage, in his principled opposition to apartheid in South Africa, his enduring support for Israel, and his advocacy of independence for Ukraine and the other European nations long under the yoke of Soviet communism."


The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library called Mulroney "one of Canada's most consequential prime ministers."

In 2019, the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University awarded Mulroney the Baker Prize for Excellence in Leadership for advancing "policies that continue to foster economic growth and environmental sustainability."

"The world changed because of Brian Mulroney's fortitude, his leadership and his determination," former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said at the time.

In a statement, former U.S. President George W. Bush said he was "saddened" to hear about Mulroney's death.

As prime minister, Bush said Mulroney "helped end the Cold War." The 43rd U.S. president added how Mulroney "developed a very close friendship with my dad," the 41st U.S. president. "At Dad's funeral, Brian recited, 'There are wooden ships, there are sailing ships, there are ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships, and may they always be.'"

Democracy today

Both famously proud of their Irish heritage, Mulroney and Reagan maintained a close bond, with Mulroney giving a eulogy at Reagan's 2004 funeral.

"Presidents and prime ministers everywhere, I suspect, sometimes wonder how history will deal with them," Mulroney said that day.


Mulroney spoke of leadership -- "that ineffable and magical quality that sets some men and women apart so that millions will follow them as they conjure up grand visions and invite their countrymen to dream big and exciting dreams."

He and Reagan "saw Soviet communism as a menace to be confronted in the genuine belief that its squalid underpinnings would fall swiftly to the gathering winds of freedom, provided that NATO and the industrialized democracies stood firm and united.

"They did, and we know now who was right," he said.

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