Mulroney's finest hour

Peter
Peter Jackson
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What will become of Newfoundland's old friend, Brian Mulroney?

He's certainly got himself in a pickle - a pickle of his own bottling, if I may stretch the metaphor.

Ever since his constitutional accords went down in flames, Mulroney has struggled to maintain a modicum of dignity in the eyes of Canadians. And that was before recent revelations that he and Karlheinz Schreiber did more than drink coffee together. His own party is still divided between loyalists and those who prefer to pretend he doesn't exist.

He certainly deserves most of what he's reaped in recent days - not so much for the seriousness of his supposed crimes as for his persistence in presenting himself as a lily-white saint. On the stand at the Oliphant inquiry, he can't let go of the belief that his reputation is fully intact.

What will become of Newfoundland's old friend, Brian Mulroney?

He's certainly got himself in a pickle - a pickle of his own bottling, if I may stretch the metaphor.

Ever since his constitutional accords went down in flames, Mulroney has struggled to maintain a modicum of dignity in the eyes of Canadians. And that was before recent revelations that he and Karlheinz Schreiber did more than drink coffee together. His own party is still divided between loyalists and those who prefer to pretend he doesn't exist.

He certainly deserves most of what he's reaped in recent days - not so much for the seriousness of his supposed crimes as for his persistence in presenting himself as a lily-white saint. On the stand at the Oliphant inquiry, he can't let go of the belief that his reputation is fully intact.

That there was something seedy about his trysts with Schreiber is inescapable.

And his attempts to twist and fudge the truth are undeniably pathetic.

But given a less self-absorbed figure, with considerably less media baggage, you could hardly say these dealings were especially egregious, if they were even illegal to begin with.

He didn't set up an unmonitored federal program from which millions of dollars were funnelled to friends and party workers.

He didn't embezzle thousands of taxpayers' dollars for frivolous perks.

It's not even public money at issue. And the amount is far less than the millions posited by Airbus conspiracy theorists.

Nonetheless, some will still see these ill-considered transactions as only the tip of the iceberg, just as others will see it as an uncharacteristic episode of sheer stupidity. Either way, his personal reputation is pretty well shot.

After this circus is over, Mulroney will undoubtedly sink further into seclusion.

Steve Martin's vision of post-resignation Richard Nixon springs to mind - the disgraced president in his "big, old shorts," wandering the California beaches with a metal detector.

His personal fall from grace is all but complete, but it would be a shame if Mulroney's political legacy were tossed out with the bathwater.

In particular, his service to this province is worth remembering.

Mulroney was arguably the only prime minister to formally rectify this province's anomalous situation when it comes to resources.

The Canadian Constitution gives provinces exclusive jurisdiction over resource wealth, but two of Newfoundland and Labrador's most lucrative resources - fish and oil - lie in offshore waters where the feds rule supreme.

This is not part of some malicious plan to "rape" the province of its wealth. It's simply happenstance. But getting it fairly addressed has been an uphill battle, to say the least.

That battle was particularly intense in the early 1980s, when Pierre Trudeau's centralist steamroller was busily rolling over provincial rights.

In his plea for Newfoundland control over offshore oil resources, former premier Brian Peckford backtracked from total ownership to joint ownership to joint management. Trudeau would have none of it.

Mulroney saw a chance to give Newfoundland a seat at the table. His subsequent signing of the 1985 Atlantic Accord gave Newfoundland joint management of the resource.

Over the years, the accord's effectiveness in protecting the province from federal clawbacks has been hotly debated, but the agreement itself is now taken for granted.

It's a fait accompli, and the vitriolic debates and court challenges that preceded it are slowly fading into history.

Something to think about the next time you spot Mulroney puttering about in his big, old shorts.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Airbus, The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, California

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Recent comments

  • PJ
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Your observation that Mulrooney should be condemned more for his attitude than his actions ( ...you could hardly say these dealings were especially egregious... ) doesn't reflect the gravity of this violation of public trust. All Mulrooney's slithering on the stand has done little to dissuade most Canadians from their understanding of the true purpose of these money transfers. We unwittingly paid Mulrooney more than $2 million for damage to a reputation that, by his own hand, has been rendered worthless. Payment in the amounts and in the manner accepted by Mulrooney - unearned, unsubstantiated and unreported for years - have the same connotation in any currency. Payola. A man on whom so much honour, privilege and reward had been bestowed during his professional and political life demanded even more - under the table is fine, thanks. And yes Mr Jackson, it IS public money at issue. At stake is not only Mulrooney's unpaid or ultimately half-paid taxes but the quid-pro-quo elephant that sits atop the Oiliphant inquiry - an elephant that Justice Oiliphant has been instructed to ignore. History should rightfully credit Mulrooney with his achievements, including his progressive if now somewhat emaciated resource sharing agreements. It may well be however that it will also place an asterisk after his name and preclude his entry to the prime ministerial hall of fame.

  • isdaby
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Very well balanced article, Peter. You are becomming on of NL best writers.

  • Barry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    The speech Prime Minister Mulroney gave to the House of Assembly in a heroic effort to overcome the Liberal sabotage of the Meech Lake Accord is his finest political speech. It should be released to the general public for present day review.

  • PJ
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Your observation that Mulrooney should be condemned more for his attitude than his actions ( ...you could hardly say these dealings were especially egregious... ) doesn't reflect the gravity of this violation of public trust. All Mulrooney's slithering on the stand has done little to dissuade most Canadians from their understanding of the true purpose of these money transfers. We unwittingly paid Mulrooney more than $2 million for damage to a reputation that, by his own hand, has been rendered worthless. Payment in the amounts and in the manner accepted by Mulrooney - unearned, unsubstantiated and unreported for years - have the same connotation in any currency. Payola. A man on whom so much honour, privilege and reward had been bestowed during his professional and political life demanded even more - under the table is fine, thanks. And yes Mr Jackson, it IS public money at issue. At stake is not only Mulrooney's unpaid or ultimately half-paid taxes but the quid-pro-quo elephant that sits atop the Oiliphant inquiry - an elephant that Justice Oiliphant has been instructed to ignore. History should rightfully credit Mulrooney with his achievements, including his progressive if now somewhat emaciated resource sharing agreements. It may well be however that it will also place an asterisk after his name and preclude his entry to the prime ministerial hall of fame.

  • isdaby
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    Very well balanced article, Peter. You are becomming on of NL best writers.

  • Barry
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    The speech Prime Minister Mulroney gave to the House of Assembly in a heroic effort to overcome the Liberal sabotage of the Meech Lake Accord is his finest political speech. It should be released to the general public for present day review.