Canada History

Canada History   timelines 
AskAHistorian    blog 




Elections | Governor General | Supreme Courts | Parliament | Political Parties | Prime Ministers | Provinces  | Symbols

John A Macdonald | Alexander Mackenzie | John Abbott | John Thompson | Mackenzie Bowell | Charles Tupper | Wilfred Laurier  | Robert Borden | Arthur Meighen | William Lyon Mackenzie King | RB Bennett | Louis St Laurent | John Diefenbaker | Lester Pearson | Pierre Trudeau | Joe Clark | John Turner | Brian Mulroney | Kim Campbell | Jean Chretien | Paul Martin  | Stephen Harper

Brian Mulroney was born on March 20, 1939 in Baie-Comeau, Quebec. Mulroney attended a Catholic High School in New Brunswick and then entered St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia where he studied  several subjects before drawn to Political Science which he graduated with Honours in. He then took his Law degree at Dalhousie University and then due to illness restarted that degree at Laval University in Quebec City. After graduation he was hired by Howard, Cate, Ogilvy, after finally passing the Bar exam on his third attempt,  and settled in Montreal

While in University Mulroney had joined the Conservative Party and campaigned for the local Conservative Candidate in the 1956 provincial election which were led by Robert Stanfield who won the election. Mulroney was swept up by party politics and while attending the 1956 Conservative Leadership Convention, became a staunch supporter of John Diefenbaker. He also developed many connections in the party, such as Ted Rogers, which were to help in in later years. he then helped with the 1958 Federal election which brought Diefenbaker to power. While in Quebec City he was very active in the Conservative youth wing whose leader at the time was Joe Clark.

Mulroney practiced law in the field of labour relations but continued to work hard and intimately in the Conservative Party. As Diefenbaker's leadership came increasingly under pressure, Mulroney joined the Dalton Camp move to oust him and at the 1967 leadership convention he backed Davie Fulton from B.C.. When Fulton was eliminated from the race, Mulroney persuaded most of his supporters to switch to Robert Stanfield which put him over the top and made him the new leader.

By 1974 Mulroney had been asked to serve on the Cliché Commission to investigate the James Bay project where he cultivated friendships with both Robert Bourassa, Premier of Quebec and Lucien Bouchard his future Lieutenant.

In 1974 Robert Stanfield lost his third straight Federal Election to the Liberals and decide to step down. Mulroney was encourage to enter the race and to use his Quebec residence as a base form which to build his campaign on. During the 1976 campaign. he spent over $500,000 on the leadership race and although he showed strongly on the first ballot, he faded and Joe Clark won the race.

Rather the join Clark in opposition, Mulroney decided to stay in the private sector and became Vice-President of the Iron Ore Company of Canada where he was paid a very lucrative salary. The period between the 1976 leadership loss and his re-emergence as a prominent candidate for the Conservative Party in 1982 was a difficult period when he battled with alcoholism and depression. With the help and support of his wife Mila he quit drinking and plunged back into the poetical struggle. 

When Joe Clark received just over 66% of the parties support at a convention in 1982 he called a leadership convention and Mulroney immediately began to campaign behind he scenes. On June 11th, 1983 he beat Clark on ballot 4 and took over the leadership with no Parliamentary experience but a good chance of winning the next election.

The race against the new Liberal leader, John Turner in September of 1984 resulted in the largest victory in Canadian Federal electoral history and made Mulroney Prime Minster.

Once in power Mulroney began to dismantle and discard many Liberal policies and programs from the previous 20 years. He was faced with a difficult combination of expectations within his caucus and party. The western Conservatives were mainly interested in provincial rights and socially conservative issues, Ontario and maritime conservatives wanted to support business and get the economy under control and the Quebec nationalist which had joined his coalition expected considerable concessions for the province. 




He scraped the National Energy Policy to appease the west, sold off 23 crown corporations to please Ontario and the East |Coast and shifted resources and support t Quebec to keep the nationalist on side. He also began the process of negotiating a free trade agreement with the U.S. and Mexico, know as the North American Free Trade Agreement. He did not however get the Federal deficit under control and began to rack up record yearly debts with uncontrolled spending.

By 1988 he was ready to call an election and the Free Trade Agreement was to be the central and most important issues of the campaign. He once again faced John Turner as Liberal leader and the emotional exchanges over free trade during the debates were critical in the election. Mulroney and the Conservatives were able to win another majority, which made them the first Conservative government since Robert Borden's Union Government to win 2 successive majorities.

In 1989 the Mulroney government proposed the scraping of the old federal sales tax (MST Manufacturers Sales tax) and the introduction of a new consume tax to be known as the GST or Goods and Services Tax. The tax was enormously unpopular at the time and has remained so since but has proven to be an effective and efficient economic tool for collecting government revenues.


In 1990 he felt it was time to introduce an mechanism for bringing Quebec into the process and proposed the Meech Lake Agreement which was ultimately rejected by both Newfoundland and Manitoba. This stimulated the reawakening of separatists feelings in Quebec and his second attempt, the Charlottetown Accord, which would officially recognize Quebec as a distinct society,  was also defeated decisively in a 1992 national referendum.

By 1993 Mulroney realized that his popularity had dropped to such low levels (one 1992 poll gave him just 11% approval) that he could not possible be re-elected again and he decided to retire  from politics. In June of 1993 he handed over the leadership of the party and the Prime Ministership to the newly chosen Kim Campbell who was decisively defeated by Jean Chretien an the Liberals just a few months later, and left politics.


His activities and accomplishments since then have been largely overshadowed by scandal and corruption charges and his standing in the Canada has not appreciably increased. His old political ally Lucien Bouchard had left his government months before he stepped down and formed the Bloc Quebecois to try and breakup Canada on a Federal level. In just a few years another referendum was held in Quebec and this one almost saw the forces of separation win.

His legacy is yet to be fully written and only time will decide whether he remains an unpopular former Prime Minister or if many of the actions he took and the programs and changes he instituted will prove to be positive contributions to the improvement of Canada.

Article/Document/Material Source: