Politics

Mourners gather in Montreal to say goodbye to former prime minister Brian Mulroney

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney — a man whose efforts to reshape Canada earned both praise and controversy — will be laid to rest with a state funeral in Montreal today.

Mulroney, who served as Canada’s 18th prime minister from 1984 to 1993, died surrounded by his family in Florida on Feb. 29. He was 84. 

CBC News’ special coverage of the state funeral begins at 9 a.m. ET on Saturday. The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. ET at the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal.

Mulroney’s daughter Caroline will eulogize her father, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadian media baron Pierre Karl Péladeau, former Quebec premier Jean Charest and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. Former U.S. secretary of state James Baker will address the funeral by video link. 

Only those invited will be permitted into the Basilica on Saturday.

The funeral ceremony will feature prayers, readings, hymns and a communion to be delivered by Archbishop of Montréal Christian Lépine and Miguel Castellanos, rector of Notre-Dame Basilica.

Mulroney will be remembered for doing ‘big things’: Trudeau 

A skilled politician and engaging speaker, Mulroney took on politics in a way that was both admired and attacked.

On the day he died, Trudeau said that Mulroney will be long remembered for pursuing “big things” in office.

“Whether one agrees with our solutions or not, none will accuse us of having chosen to evade our responsibilities by side-stepping the most controversial issues of our time,” Mulroney said in his February 1993 resignation address.

“I’ve done the very best for my country and my party.”

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Mulroney’s efforts brought about the North American Free Trade Agreement, changing and deepening the economic relationship between Canada, the United States and Mexico. He continued to defend the integrity of the pact when it was reopened under U.S. President Donald Trump.

His government introduced some of the most successful environmental policies in Canadian history: the acid rain treaty to curb sulfur dioxide emissions and the Montreal Protocol.

“Brian Mulroney quite literally saved all life on Earth when Canada stood up and launched the Montreal Protocol and saved the ozone layer,” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May told the House of Commons last week.

 WATCH | Former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney dead at 84 

Former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney dead at 84

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney has died. He was 84. His daughter Caroline Mulroney shared the news Thursday afternoon on social media.

Mulroney’s time in office coincided with a tumultuous period in world affairs, including the end of the Cold War and an international campaign against apartheid in South Africa — a racist caste system he fought against. 

On the home front, he tried to calm growing separatist sentiments in Quebec through the failed Meech Lake Accord — which would have recognized Quebec as a “distinct society” within Canada and would have extended greater powers to the provinces.

“It’s a sad day for Canada. This was all about Canada, about the unity of our country,” Mulroney said of the accord’s defeat.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan walk past a line of Royal Canadian Mounted Police on March 17, 1985 at the Quebec City airport. Following are Mrs. Mila Mulroney and Mrs. Nancy Reagan. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

One of his most controversial moves in government was the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax. He also stacked the Senate with supporters to get the deeply unpopular GST bill through the Liberal-dominated upper house.

“It is clearly not popular, but we’re doing it because it’s right for Canada. It must be done,” Mulroney said of the tax in 1990.

While then-Liberal leader Jean Chretien campaigned to “axe the tax,” the GST, which brings in billions of dollars in government revenue, remains on the books as a key revenue stream for the federal government.

WATCH | GG remembers Mulroney as ‘visionary’ despite complex relationship with Indigenous people 

Governor General remembers Brian Mulroney as ‘visionary’ despite complex relationship with Indigenous peoples

Governor General Mary Simon gives a one-on-one interview with Power & Politics on her experiences working with Brian Mulroney. The former prime minister was ‘polarizing at time,’ Simon says, but she remembers him as an engaging and visionary leader.

His mark on Canada was also shadowed by scandal.

In 1995, a leaked letter revealed that the RCMP had accused Mulroney of having taken kickbacks from Karlheinz Schreiber, a German-Canadian businessman and arms dealer, on the sale of Airbus airliners to Air Canada in the late 1980s. The airline was a Crown corporation at the time.

Mulroney sued the Liberal government and received an apology and damages in 1997.

But an inquiry into the affair revealed Mulroney accepted “cash-stuffed envelopes” from Schreiber totalling at least $225,000.

The inquiry concluded the former prime minister’s dealings with Schreiber were “inappropriate” and unethical.

Mulroney called accepting the cash a “serious error in judgment” and “my second biggest mistake in life.” The first, he said, “was ever agreeing to be introduced to Karlheinz Schreiber in the first place.”

Later in life, he became an elder statesman and adviser to politicians of all stripes, always ready to pick up the phone and — in that unmistakable baritone — offer advice to the new generation.

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