CBC Digital Archives

Looking back on the Mulroney years

In 1984, Brian Mulroney led the federal Conservatives to the biggest election victory in Canadian history. Almost a decade later, the man described as having "Robert Redford eyes and Paul Newman hair," would leave the Prime Minister's Office as the most unpopular prime minister in Canada's recent memory. Mulroney's bold leadership on controversial issues such as free trade, GST and Meech Lake would drastically alter the political landscape of this country.

A decade after Brian Mulroney left office as the most hated prime minister, Canadians are still angry. Upon learning that Mulroney will give a speech at the 2003 Tory leadership convention, one man tells CBC Radio that he's not happy about it. "I think of him as a corrupt regime... and it discredits the Tory party for me." "Mulroney did very bad politics when he was the prime minister and we don't like him at all," says another.

Despite being one of the very few political leaders to gain international recognition as a statesman after leaving office, he still remains unpopular in Canada.
• When Brian Mulroney was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1998, there were protests across the country.

• Mulroney defended his government's records at the 2003 conservative leadership convention saying Jean Chrétien and the Liberals had adopted his most important policies including the GST, NAFTA and the Free Trade Agreement.

• In 1997, 25 scholars ranked Canada's 20 prime ministers. Brian Mulroney was ranked 8th. He was hailed "for his smashing election victories and his big agenda of free trade and the Constitution, but he was seen as a Gucci-shod glad hander in bed with the Yankees, the man who failed so dismally in his constitutional gambits and left office so hated by the Canadian public that it promptly destroyed his party in an act of calculated revenge."
(April 1997, Maclean's)

• Mulroney joked about his unpopularity in a speech he delivered on the occasion of NAFTA's 10th anniversary. Mulroney told the audience that he had been waiting for an airport cart to take him to the other side of the airport, when a woman tried to butt in ahead of him. The airport official told the woman that she could not have the cart because it was being "reserved for the former dictator of Canada."

• In August 2002, his alma mater St. Thomas College, now known as St. Thomas University, unveiled the new Brian Mulroney Hall in Fredericton, N.B.

• That same year, Mulroney was in Parliament Hill for the unveiling of his official portrait. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was present and joked "We have gathered today to hang Brian Mulroney on Parliament Hill," said Chrétien. "And I suspect he takes some great pleasure from the knowledge that I will be the next to hang."

• In April 2004, Brian Mulroney was voted the worst Canadian ever by CBC Radio's Definitely Not The Opera listeners. His son, TV personality Ben Mulroney, came in second followed by media mogul Conrad Black.

• Since leaving the PMO, Brian Mulroney has become a successful lawyer and a global entrepreneur, sitting on boards of major international corporations including J.P. Morgan Chase, Quebecor World Inc. and Magna International Inc. He is also in demand as a political speaker commanding up to $50,000 for an appearance.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: May 30, 2003
Duration: 3:00
"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," Lyrics: C. Olcott, G. Graff. Music: E. Ball. ASCAP."

Last updated: April 12, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Canada's Constitutional Debate: What Makes a ...

In its first hundred years, geography was Canada's most obvious tie that binds. On almost all ...

John Diefenbaker: extra clips

His eyes blazing and his finger stabbing the air, John George Diefenbaker set 1950s Canada ali...

Pierre Elliott Trudeau: Philosopher and Prime...

He slid down banisters, dated movie stars and wore a red rose in his lapel. Pierre Elliott Tru...

Brian Mulroney: The Negotiator

In 1984, Brian Mulroney led the federal Conservatives to the biggest election victory in Canad...

John Diefenbaker: Dief the Chief

His eyes blazing and his finger stabbing the air, John George Diefenbaker set 1950s Canada ali...

Leaders' Debates 1968-2011: Highlights

After months of anticipation and weeks of campaigning, it all comes down to one night. Televis...