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The Late Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, P.C., C.C., G.O.Q.

Inquiry--Debate Continued

May 8, 2024

Honourable senators, it is an honour and a privilege to speak today about the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney. While it has been two and a half months since his passing, it has given me time to pay my respects during his lying in state and time to listen and watch those who knew him well alongside Canadians who just wanted to pay their respects in Ottawa and Montreal.

I speak today about Mr. Mulroney because he had an impact on me, like on so many, that was strong and powerful during the formative years in my life — an impact that continues to this day.

Let’s first go back in time. Four decades ago, in 1984, how old were you? What were you up to? For me, while it was the second time I voted, it was the first time I truly listened to party platforms and began to respect the electoral process. I had just finished graduate school. I was embarking on my adult life and my professional life and taking on many new changes.

In July 1984, during a televised debate with John Turner, Mr. Mulroney caught my attention. Partly due to his charisma and partly due to his confidence, I was taken by his ambitious big-picture responses and his references to leading Canada and aspiring to be a strong global influence. I also remember quite clearly a moment when Mr. Turner tried to shake Mr. Mulroney up a bit regarding political appointments, and I watched as Mr. Mulroney smoothly and tactfully flipped the tables on his opponent at that moment.

It felt like Mr. Mulroney gained so much momentum throughout the month of August. I read what I could in the media — and that was only the newspaper. I learned of his life in the small isolated town of Baie-Comeau, and that he was the son of Irish Catholic Canadian parents.

Over time, and before the election, I also learned of his deep love and appreciation for his wife and best friend. What I really admired was that Brian and Mila presented as a team, both during the campaign and his time in office. I think it was the only time in my life — I don’t know if it was a break in protocol — that I saw campaign buttons with a photo of both the candidate and his spouse. They were inseparable throughout, which I found impressive, as soon I would begin my own family.

It was September 4; I remember that morning like it was yesterday. I was in my mid-twenties, and it was my first day in my new apartment — a whopping $400 for two bedrooms — in a new town, starting a new job, with no car and just a bicycle. I was engaged to my now-husband, and we would be married in five weeks, starting a new life together. That day of September 4, on the first day of my new job, I voted for Mr. Brian Mulroney. Yes, I voted Conservative. I felt that this was the leadership that Canada needed at that moment in time. This was the personality that Canada needed.

Many aspects of Mr. Mulroney’s life and career have been well noted over the past few months. As a labour lawyer, business leader, Progressive Conservative Party leader, prime minister and family man, we have been reminded of so much, and a younger generation of Canadians have begun to learn so much about him.

As prime minister, Mr. Mulroney left legacies in social programming, privatization, energy and the environment — and attempted constitutional reform — but, for me, his work in foreign policy will be remembered most. His relationship with his fellow Irishman, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, would serve him well, and his deep desire to develop strong global relationships would serve Canada well.

For me, his work with South Africa to eliminate apartheid stands high and tall in my memory. This was a political dance that I followed with interest. This is where I learned much about the Commonwealth, and the importance of the Commonwealth at this moment in history. Mulroney’s work within the Commonwealth to sanction the South African government, to try to put an end to apartheid and to have Nelson Mandela released was tireless.

He did not have the support of Margaret Thatcher, and we were told that these were tough face-to-face meetings. The support of the U.S. president was also not clearly there. But Mulroney hammered away at this from every angle. His leadership within the UN, the Commonwealth and the G7 were pivotal to the end of apartheid.

His leadership was based on leveraging personal relationships and being in the room, and there is a reason why Nelson Mandela made his first foreign visit to Canada’s Parliament after his release from prison.

Fast-forward 10 years later to 1994: It is the Commonwealth Games hosted by Canada in Victoria, B.C. It is my first go at coaching multi-sport games — a big team with lots on the go. It is now opening ceremonies day. Opening ceremonies are special anytime, anywhere, especially on home soil, but it is a long time — usually at least 6 to 8 hours, or maybe 10 hours — from start to finish. So, “hurry up and wait,” taking your time and having patience are important.

As we prepared to march in, we heard a lot of commotion, singing and chanting behind us. It was South Africa celebrating, excited to be back in the Commonwealth. Mandela’s people were there and shared in this excitement. Our athletes were truthfully unsure of what the big fuss was all about. They were becoming a little tired and wanted to get on with it.

I quickly circled about 30 of them around me, paused and said, “Do you know what is happening? Do you know why this moment is significant? Do you know that you are part of history?” They were athletes. They were focused on their sport. They had no idea. I remember saying:

There will be many memories you make here at these Commonwealth Games — some on the field of play, some off. Today, you will march into the Victoria Stadium alongside South Africa. They are returning to the Commonwealth movement after experiencing years of an apartheid regime. This march in is for their country, for their freedom. This is their first event outside of South Africa. Remember to say hello. You know their team jersey colours. When not competing, look them straight in the eye, introduce yourselves and do what you can to make them feel most welcome.

Fast-forward 30 years later, and many of you may recall that just a few weeks ago — maybe 10 days ago — there was a pivotal 30-year anniversary of the freedom of South Africa. Two of these athletes — now in their fifties — emailed me out of the blue. They said:

Hey, Coach Deac, I just saw on social media that this is the thirtieth anniversary for South Africa celebrating their freedom. I will never forget what you told us in that crazy huddle before the opening ceremonies in Victoria. We certainly now get the importance of that moment.

That moment happened when it did, thanks in great part to the determination of our former prime minister.

To finally complete the circle of impact, I was thrilled to join my Senate colleague Senator Coyle in her home in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, last August. Senator Coyle’s home proudly overlooks St. Francis Xavier University. You just cross the street and you’re there. Not that long ago, Mr. Mulroney, while attending a football game, envisioned a legacy building — an inspiring place for undergraduate students to learn about issues, policies and civic engagement, while in pursuit of leadership roles in the fields of public policy and governance.

What is so special about this building that opened in 2018 is the museum-like, exact replica of Mr. Mulroney’s office that he held in Ottawa — everything down to the furniture, the arrangement of the furniture and the light. Truthfully, you feel like the prime minister has just stepped out of the room. It is a wonderful learning legacy for Canadians.

I share the impact of one prime minister on one person at one moment in time. I believe that this was also the beginning of my interest in federal politics — in structures designed to make Canada the very best. More importantly, the valuing of relationships — regardless of stripes — and the ability to connect, respect, listen and work toward collective compromise are skills that we need more than ever. I saw and valued those through the Mulroney years.

Today, I am honoured to serve in some way with those lessons in mind. Thank you to the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney and his family.

Thank you. Meegwetch.

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