Brian Mulroney, former Canadian PM, dies aged 84

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Brian Mulroney, the former Canadian prime minister who struck a free trade deal with the US but whose legacy was marred by revelations of improper business dealings with an arms dealer, has died at the age of 84.

His daughter announced the death in a social media post.

“On behalf of my mother and our family, it is with great sadness we announce the passing of my father, the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, Canada’s 18th prime minister. He died peacefully, surrounded by family,” Caroline Mulroney wrote late on Thursday.

Mulroney’s family said last summer he was improving daily after a heart procedure that followed treatment for prostate cancer in early 2023.

“Brian Mulroney loved Canada. I’m devastated to learn of his passing. He never stopped working for Canadians, and he always sought to make this country an even better place to call home,” prime minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement.

“As we mourn his passing and keep his family and friends in our thoughts, let us also acknowledge – and celebrate – Mr Mulroney’s role in building the modern, dynamic, and prosperous country we all know today,” Trudeau said.

A corporate lawyer turned businessman, Mulroney led the centre-right Progressive Conservatives to a historic win in 1984 over the Liberals of Pierre Trudeau.

A skilled politician with a gift for public speaking, Mulroney sought to emulate in Canada the conservative leanings of the Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher era by revamping the tax system and selling off government assets.

His nine-year stewardship was marked by negotiations for the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement in 1988, which helped boost Canadian exports, and the introduction of a goods and services tax in 1991. The tax was enormously unpopular politically but helped fix the government’s finances.

Mulroney took an active interest in foreign affairs, pushing through a treaty with the United States to curb acid rain, spearheading efforts to tackle the 1984 Ethiopian famine and speaking out against apartheid in South Africa.

“You cannot name a Canadian prime minister who has done as many significant things as I did, because there are none,” the author Peter Newman quoted him as saying in an interview.

Mulroney also presided over two failed bids to change Canada’s constitution to grant the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec the status of a distinct society. The efforts, designed to thwart the Quebec independence movement, fostered deep differences between French and English Canada that reverberated politically for decades.

He resigned in 1993 amid record low polling numbers. The Progressive Conservative party was reduced to just two of 295 seats in the House of Commons in an election later that year – easily the biggest defeat in Canadian history – and never recovered politically.

After leaving politics, Mulroney returned to law and became a partner with the Montréal firm Norton Rose Fulbright.

In 1995, a leaked letter revealed that Royal Canadian Mounted Police had accused Mulroney of having taken kickbacks from German-Canadian arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber on the sale of Airbus airliners to Air Canada in 1988. Mulroney sued the Liberal government and won an apology and damages in 1997.

But in 2010, an inquiry into the affair concluded Mulroney had indeed had inappropriate business dealings with Schreiber. Mulroney told the inquiry there was nothing illegal about the payments, but apologised publicly for taking the money.

“My second biggest mistake in life, for which I have no one to blame but myself, is having accepted payments in cash from Karlheinz Schreiber,” he said in 2007. “My biggest mistake in life – by far – was ever agreeing to be introduced to Karlheinz Schreiber in the first place.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report



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