OTTAWA – Brian Mulroney harboured private doubts in his final years as prime minister that Canada could be "saved" and feared he did not have the political strength or skill to keep the country together, according to a copy of his new autobiography obtained by the Toronto Star.
Less than a year after the failed Meech Lake proposals to amend the Constitution and blunt Quebec sovereignists, Mulroney was facing revolt from federalists in the province in the form of a report that called for greater power or an immediate referendum on sovereignty.
Publicly, Mulroney recalls that he put on a brave face but did not reveal his true feelings to the public or anyone in his government. But in a personal journal entry dated Jan. 30, 1991, he admits fearing the Quebec Liberal party's demands in the Allaire report "have placed us, perhaps intentionally, on the slope to national disintegration."
"I am no longer sure that Canada can be saved, her unity maintained," Mulroney writes. "Nor am I sure that I'm the leader to bring that about. ... As I sit writing these notes in my downstairs den at 24 (Sussex), I wonder if I can successfully complete the job that must be done to keep the nation whole. And if not me, who?"
The candid reflection is one of many memories of the political career of the boy from Baie Comeau, Que. Memoirs details his earlier careers in law and business, but is centred on the two terms he served as Progressive Conservative prime minister.
The 1,100-page book, which will be publicly released Monday, ends with his departure from office on June 25, 1993.
The book is seen as an attempt to revive the reputation of a man who was beaten down in his final years in Ottawa after battling recessions, a controversial free trade agreement with the United States, the introduction of the unpopular goods and services tax and the betrayal of close friend Lucien Bouchard, who went on to found the separatist Bloc Québécois.
His not-so-private thoughts on world leaders
From Brian Mulroney's personal journal dated September 1989:
"(Jean) Chrétien is a man of some considerable charm and certain political advantages. His disadvantages include intellectual insolence and a very considerable measure of vanity. These, combined with habitual Liberal arrogance, could cause him serious difficulties. He already has a tendency to underestimate his political adversaries, and this is never a prudent or helpful quality in seeking high office."
"(Former U.S. president) Bill Clinton ... is clearly the most gifted politician, by far, of his generation. We developed an excellent personal relationship, and I was not surprised to see him evolve into a highly effective world leader."
"(Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher) is a delight. Clear-headed, well-spoken, resolute and very supportive of Canada."
"(Former president Ronald Reagan) is a kindly man, possessed of warm, good humour, generous instincts and what appears to be a total absence of malice. ... He speaks ill of no one."
In the book, Mulroney makes clear that the pain – and deception – of Bouchard's surprise turn to separatism stings more than a decade later.
Mulroney says he demanded Bouchard's resignation from cabinet after the environment minister sent a telegram of friendship to then-PQ leader Jacques Parizeau.
And the former prime minister says his trusted friend conspired with Parizeau for weeks "to betray me, all the while pretending to be my friend and a loyal minister."
"With the benefit of hindsight, I could clearly see for the first time how foolish I had been in placing such loyalty, trust and friendship in a man incapable of reciprocating such feelings," he writes.
The ensuing 14 years have not been easy either as he has faced allegations of secret commissions paid to members of his government in exchange for Air Canada – then a Crown corporation – purchasing European-made jetliners.
Several years ago, Mulroney sued the federal government for libel and received an apology and a $2 million settlement. He calls that time a period of "extraordinary abuse" and "an attempt to destroy a former prime minister."
He promises to tell that story in another book. Instead, this biography is focused on his time in office and the message that he always had Canada's long-term interests at heart.
"We all enjoy being liked, and I was no exception. I knew, however, that if I made major changes that I saw as necessary for the country's long-term benefit, my disapproval numbers would rise sharply. And they did," he writes in Memoirs.
"My only consolation, then and now, was the hope of an approving verdict rendered by a more reflective nation in the fullness of time."
He insists that history has vindicated two of his government's most controversial moves – the free trade deal with Washington and the GST, which he calls a "historic" change to tax policy.
"(It has) enabled subsequent governments to put Canada's fiscal house in order," he writes.
But in the chapter titled "Resignation," Mulroney lets slip signs of self-doubt at how history will judge his record.
"Was I right on the major issues? No one can be sure. I actually did govern not for good headlines in 10 days but for a better Canada in 10 years. I paid the price in media hostility and public disapproval."
Mulroney's stinging memory from his time in office is the threat that Quebec would separate from Canada, and he calls national unity "the prime minister's only duty."
With the rise of the Bloc and the splintering of his beloved coalition of Quebec small-c conservative coalition, he was so unnerved that he had begun looking around for a successor in 1991.
"It may be that I can now best serve the country I love so deeply by turning over its leadership to a new person, better able to lead in these difficult circumstances," Mulroney wrote in a personal journal he kept.
The book has harsh words for former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who would undercut Mulroney's efforts on the Meech Lake accord. Mulroney is critical of Trudeau's decision not to serve in World War II, even though he was young, "well-educated, well-informed and in excellent health."
"Although much of the free world, including Canada, recognized the destructive and criminal nature of the Nazi war machine, Trudeau did not," Mulroney writes.
Later, Mulroney accuses Trudeau of doing nothing to kick out Nazi war criminals living in Canada, a decision that "must rank with the greatest sins of omission in the history of this nation."
"They lived here under false pretences and were never charged because it appears that Mr. Trudeau did not want `to trouble' the social fabric of Canada," Mulroney writes.
"For all those years, criminals of the worst sort found sanctuary."
Yesterday, Liberal Stéphane Dion condemned Mulroney's criticism of Trudeau.
"Mr. Mulroney's track record in politics may indeed explain his frustrations with prime minister Trudeau, they do not qualify him as a historian," Dion said in a statement.
"Adversary or not, one cannot ignore Mr. Trudeau's contributions to Canada. In bringing us the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Prime Minister Trudeau ensured that the human rights of all our citizens would be protected."
Memoirs remains silent about Mulroney's close links to contemporary leaders, such as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and some of his top cabinet ministers, or his role in the merger of his decimated Progressive Conservative party and the western-based Canadian Alliance.
But he does blame Reform party founder Preston Manning, as well as Bouchard, for his reducing his Tories to just two MPs in the 1993 election, and says they helped elect a Liberal party that had devastated Alberta with the National Energy Program and threatened Quebec's future when the province was left out of the Constitution.
There are few bombshells in the book, although there are several glimpses behind the scenes and in the corridors of political power, particularly with his U.S. counterparts, which he called Canada's "most important and constructive international role."
"My experience has been that when presidents listen carefully to Canadian prime ministers, they become more thoughtful and more respectful of the sensitivities and needs of the international community and of multilateral institutions."
Even though his famous rendition of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" with then-president Ronald Reagan was criticized as proof he was cozying up to Washington, Mulroney remains defiant, dismissing detractors as academics, politicians and pundits from the left wing and "extremist crowd."
Anti-American remarks by Liberals, including a famous crack by Chrétien's spokeswoman that Americans were "morons," led to the cancellation of an official state visit to Canada, he reveals, writing it off as "the greatest such debacle in history."
Allan Woods and Bruce Campion-Smith
Mulroney feared for his nation
`I am no longer sure that Canada can be saved, her unity maintained,' he wrote of the time after Meech Lake failed