“What would be said of a generation that sought the stars but permitted its lakes and streams to languish and die?” – Mulroney
Mulroney was the second-ever Conservative Canadian Prime Minister to be re-elected for a second term (the first was John A, Canada’s first PM). He was also deeply unpopular at several points during his time in office, and remains very controversial. He did, however, orchestrate a number of policies with lasting impact: the Free Trade Agreement with the US, introducing the GST, fighting South African Apartheid, encouraging Quebec to join La Francophonie, moderating spending after the large increase in national debt from Pierre Trudeau, and signing an acid rain agreement with the US.
His memoirs are not a post-politics, statesman’s view of his time in office, so if you’re looking for objectivity look elsewhere. He clearly still has strong feelings on some of the events that occurred, particularly what he sees as a betrayal by Pierre Trudeau when Trudeau violently opposed Mulroney’s attempt to get Quebec to agree to the Canadian constitution at Meech Lake – Trudeau brought in the Canadian constitution in 1982 without the approval of Quebec, and Mulroney believed that without a deal that brought Quebec in from the cold, separatism was a real threat. Whether that’s true or not remains disputed, and Trudeau argued that Mulroney was simply pandering to Quebec.
At some points it feels like he’s trying to rewrite history by putting his own views forward. He is also charmingly frank on some points, however, and comes across as a phenomenally gifted negotiator and master of interpersonal relations. Almost all his major successes were about negotiation, from international treaties and fighting apartheid in South Africa, to negotiating constitutional agreements with unanimous support from the provinces, something even Pierre Trudeau couldn’t manage. His relationships with others served Canada well at a number of junctures, including when the UK attempted to stop the expansion of the G-5 to include Canada, an attempt that almost succeeded until Reagan, who got along famously with Mulroney, stood up and refused to be part of a club that didn’t have Canada as a member. I would guess that’s why he is still angry about Trudeau: he took a perceived betrayal hard.
Perhaps his most enduring legacy, interestingly, has been the environment. In 2006 he was honoured as the Greenest PM in history: beyond signing the acid rain treaty, he created eight new national parks and brought in the environmental protection act, and remains vocal about global warming. Quite a contrast to more modern Conservative party positions.