Former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney dies aged 84

Staff WritersAP
Former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney has 'died peacefully' at the age of 84. (AP PHOTO)
Camera IconFormer Canadian PM Brian Mulroney has 'died peacefully' at the age of 84. (AP PHOTO) Credit: AP

Brian Mulroney, the former Canadian prime minister who struck a free trade deal with the US but whose legacy was marred by revelations of improper business dealings with an arms dealer, has died.

Mulroney died peacefully surrounded by family, his daughter Caroline Mulroney posted on social media platform X on Thursday. He was 84.

Mulroney had a heart procedure in August and was treated for prostate cancer earlier last year, she said in a social media post in late August 2023.

A corporate lawyer turned businessman, Mulroney led the centre-right Progressive Conservatives to a historic win in 1984 over the Liberals of John Turner.

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Mulroney sought to emulate in Canada the conservative leanings of the Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher era by revamping the tax system and selling off government assets.

His nine-year stewardship was marked by negotiations for the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement in 1988, which helped boost Canadian exports, and the introduction of a goods and services tax in 1991. The tax was enormously unpopular politically but helped fix the government's finances.

Under Mulroney, some government-run corporations were sold off, including Air Canada.

He took an active interest in foreign affairs, pushing through a treaty with the United States to curb acid rain, spearheading efforts to tackle the 1984 Ethiopian famine and speaking out against apartheid in South Africa.

"You cannot name a Canadian prime minister who has done as many significant things as I did, because there are none," the author Peter Newman quoted him as saying in an interview.

Mulroney's ties to Reagan helped him negotiate a landmark treaty to end acid rain and the bilateral trade deal with the United States, by far Canada's biggest trading partner.

He also presided over two failed bids to change Canada's constitution to grant the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec the status of a distinct society.

The efforts, designed to thwart the Quebec independence movement, fostered deep cleavages between French and English Canada that reverberated politically for decades.

Mulroney won large majorities in 1984 and 1988, in part by bringing together social conservatives in the west of Canada and nationalist voters in Quebec.

But strains began to emerge and the union fell apart in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the creation of the overtly separatist Bloc Quebecois and the western-based Reform Party.

He resigned in 1993 amid record low popularity numbers. The Progressive Conservative party was reduced to just two of 295 seats in the House of Commons in an election later that year - easily the biggest defeat in Canadian history - and never recovered politically.

After leaving politics, Mulroney returned to law and became a partner with the Montreal firm Norton Rose Fulbright.

In 1995, a leaked letter revealed that Royal Canadian Mounted Police had accused Mulroney of having taken kickbacks from German-Canadian arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber on the sale of Airbus airliners to Air Canada in 1988. Mulroney sued the Liberal government and won an apology and damages in 1997.

But in 2010, an inquiry into the affair concluded Mulroney had indeed had inappropriate business dealings with Schreiber. Mulroney told the inquiry there was nothing illegal about the payments, but apologised publicly for taking the money.

A close friend of both Reagan and former US President George H. W. Bush, he delivered eulogies at the funerals of both men.

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