Brian Mulroney's Big Ideas

  • National Newswatch

Brian Mulroney was sitting out the pandemic lockdown with his wife Mila at their winter home in Palm Beach a few weeks ago, when he began receiving notes from Phillip Crawley, publisher and CEO of the Globe and Mail.Crawley explained that the paper was launching a series of opinion pieces called the Zero Canada Project in which writers would share their thoughts and ideas in a series of full-page articles on “the current crisis and the path forward for Canada.”Mulroney was not inclined to do it. Or, as he later explained: “I'm no longer interested in self-promotion.”Coming from Mulroney, never known for being camera-shy, it was a remarkably good-humoured comment.“I do not need any more tributes or my name in the paper,” he continued. “I'm past that point in life.”At 81, his agenda is more one of parental pride, with Mila, in the careers of their four children, and his doting role with their 15 grandchildren.But Crawley persisted.“This is what we want—big ideas,” Mulroney recalled Crawley explaining. “We're going to want Canadians to start thinking about big ideas.”“He was very persuasive,” Mulroney said. “He presented it as an occasion to articulate a vision.”Put that way, Mulroney said, he could hardly refuse.So, he started writing, the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper. With no staff, and no computer database, he was quite on his own. But he had institutional memory. And he had something else, in value-added terms of proposing an agenda. He'd been there, and done that, as Conservative leader, prime minister and representative of Canada on the world stage for nearly a decade.He wrote up his thoughts on domestic policy and foreign affairs in 10 bullet points that he called An Agenda for Canadian Greatness.For Crawley and his Globe colleagues it was evidently just what they were looking for — a big ideas piece — and they ran it as a full-page at the back of their Opinion section last weekend.On domestic policy, Mulroney singled out Indigenous affairs as the country's number one priority, calling for “full Indigenous justice” by implementing the Erasmus-Dussault report of the landmark Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples he appointed in 1991, but whose 1996 recommendations were ignored by succeeding governments.Mulroney also referred to the need for “greater fairness for our Black, Indigenous and people of colour together with a national commitment to the eradication of systemic racism and anti-semitism in Canada.”This certainly caught the attention of the Globe's Ottawa bureau chief Bob Fife, who asked about it off the top in a follow up interview on Tuesday.“I consider the aboriginal situation, the Indigenous situation to be the greatest single blight on our citizenship,” Mulroney told Fife. “We can't move ahead with a new agenda for Canada if we don't deal with the Indigenous people and systemic racism.”This should not come as a surprise to either Indigenous or Black leaders, the ones who want to move beyond protests to a better deal. Mulroney has been an advocate of  Indigenous people since they were his boyhood neighbours in Baie Comeau. And he's been a champion of racial equality since his leadership on the anti-apartheid mobilization at the global level that freed Nelson Mandela more than 30 years ago. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, among others, heard all about it.On the economic side, Mulroney called for “the dismantlement of inter-provincial trade barriers.” He's been through that before as well, on beer being brewed in each province, an issue that continues to disfigure Canada's NAFTA trade agreements, in spite of inter-provincial free trade being stipulated under Section 121 of the Constitution Act.And on that, on the week NAFTA 2.0 took effect, it's well-known that Mulroney, as the father of free trade, advised Justin Trudeau's government and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland at their invitation. Looking ahead, Mulroney proposes a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas “incorporated into NAFTA, regrouping 35 nations of 1 billion people generating approximately $30 trillion in GDP and jobs for millions in all involved countries.”Fife was just getting started and asked about China and whether Canada should swap Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou  for the Two Michaels, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, being held hostage by Beijing.Mulroney emphatically thinks not, disagreeing with 19 prominent members of the political and foreign affairs establishment, including two of his own former chiefs of staff, who wrote Trudeau calling for a prisoner exchange and dropping the extradition trial against Meng in a case brought by the U.S.What Mulroney, in rejecting hostage diplomacy, is suggesting instead is “an immediate and urgent rethink” of Canada-China policy, with a policy task force that could be chaired by someone such as David Mulroney (no kin), the hawkish former Canadian ambassador to China.For more recent evidence of China's bad behaviour Mulroney's points to Beijing's new security law trampling dissent in Hong Kong.“This is in complete violation of the agreement Margaret Thatcher signed with China in 1985,” Mulroney says emphatically, referring to the “one country, two systems” deal under which the U.K. relinquished its control of Hong Kong in 1997.Mulroney has been to China many times since his days as CEO of the Iron Ore Company in the late 1970s, and, as prime minister says “I got along just great with Deng Xiaoping,” in an era of trust building and trade expansion with China. Mulroney has nothing good to say about the current Beijing regime, adding that Canada needs to maintain its good standing in the Five Eyes alliance with the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand in keeping western telecom systems secure.There's been a striking degree of interest in Mulroney's Globe piece on social media, and a piece in Policy Magazine by Paul Deegan posted Thursday night with the headline Brian Mulroney is Having a Moment crashed our website. All this amid a Conservative leadership race that has drawn more heat for its internal squabbling than for presenting a governing alternative.“They're seeing the reaction to this,” Mulroney said Friday of senior Conservatives. “And they're very supportive.” Which would explain the calls from the likes of front-runner Peter MacKay and leading Conservatives such as Lisa Raitt.And to be clear, Mulroney says, he is taking these positions “as a Progressive Conservative. I'm a Progressive Conservative.”Which is certainly something for the Conservative Party to consider in terms of its profile and prospects with Canadians, the centrists who decide elections such as ones won by Mulroney in major landslides in 1984 and 1988.What we've been hearing this week is not so much an echo of those victories or a legacy lap by Mulroney about his achievements.It's more of a response to a time of multiple crises in the circumstances aptly set out his Globe piece and captured in its final turn of phrase: “Incrementalism builds increments, bold initiatives build nations.”L. Ian MacDonald is Editor and Publisher of Policy Magazine.