Former Prince Albert PC candidate remembers Brian Mulroney

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has died at 84. -- Photo from the Horatio Alger Association of Canada website.

A consummate leader.

That’s how Prince Albert resident and former Progressive Conservative Party candidate Gord Dobrowolsky said he’ll remember Canada’s 18th Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, who died Thursday at the age of 84.

Dobrowolsky was the PC nominee in Prince Albert during the 1984 federal election. He said Mulroney was a great communicator who had a gift for making everyone feel like they were the only person in the room.

“If you were to come to my den, you would probably see eight or nine pictures of Mr. Mulroney and myself shaking hands, talking, that sort of thing,” Dobrowolsky said during a phone interview Thursday evening. “He was a unique individual, and one of—if not the—greatest Prime Ministers we ever had. He was a leader in the truest sense of the word.”

Mulroney’s daughter Caroline, and Ontario MPP, said the former Prime Minister died peacefully, surrounded by family. Caroline said the family will share details of the funeral arrangements when they become available.

Dobrowolsky said he was sad to hear of Mulroney’s passing, but not surprised since he’d been in poor health the past year or two. Even in his 80s, Dobrowolsky said Mulroney could still command a room.

“His negotiating skills and his PR skills were unapproachable,” Dobrowolsky said. “They were unmatched. When he had an idea, he went out and sold it, using his PR skills and negotiating skills to bring everyone together, and he did it very well.”

Mulroney was born in Baie-Comeau, Que. In 1939. He worked as a lawyer and businessman before winning the Progressive Conservative leadership race in June 1983. At the time, Mulroney had never been elected to public office, but the lack of experience didn’t hurt him. The PCs cruised to a massive majority in 1984, winning 208 seats compared to 39 for the Liberals and 29 for the NDP.

Dobrowolsky lost a close three-way race in Prince Albert, losing by less than 200 votes to the NDP’s Stan Hovdebo, but has plenty of positive memories of the campaign. The biggest came in July of 1984 when Mulroney invited Progressive Conservative leaders from across the country to a policy retreat in Prince Albert.

“He was a huge admirer of John Diefenbaker. Huge,” Dobrowolsky remembered. “I happened to be the Progressive Conservative candidate at the time, and because of his huge affection and admiration for Mr. Diefenbaker, he brought the entire Progressive Conservative caucus to Prince Albert.

“All of the Conservative MPs from across Canada, the Progressive Conservative premiers from across Canada, including (Alberta Premier) Peter Lougheed, (and) Grant Devine, of course, was premier of Saskatchewan at the time. It was a policy conference, but at the time, very much a PR move. That was him showing his huge affection and admiration for Mr. Diefenbaker.”

Mulroney served two terms as Prime Minister, winning a second but smaller majority in 1988. His term in office was defined by the successful signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the unsuccessful attempt to adopt the Meech Lake Accord.

Although Mulroney failed to get all 10 provincial legislatures on board, with Manitoba the lone dissenters. Dobrowolsky said it may be the best example of Mulroney’s leadership because of how hard it was to get all the other provinces on board in the first place.

“He was the consummate communicator, and very personable,” Dobrowolsky said. That personable likeness, I think, stemmed from the fact that his beginnings as a child were very humble—from a very poor working class family in Quebec. (He) became a lawyer, went into business and then into politics, but he was the consummate negotiator. No one was better, and again, that was born out in the Meech Lake Accord.”

While Meech Lake and free trade dominated the Mulroney era, Dobrowolsky said the former Prime Minister should be just as well known for his foreign policy accomplishments and his environmental record.

Mulroney was an Order of Canada recipient, and a winner of the Woodrow Wilson Award for Global Service. He is survived by his children Caroline, Ben, Mark, and Nicolas, and his wife Mila.