RM Issue #030513
Conspiracy crusader doubts official 9/11 version
It's time for healing
Ironically, says former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, it may take a Liberal to end the nightmare of this country's disaffection with the United States . . .
By JOHN IBBITSON
Monday, May 12, 2003 - Page A13
We have betrayed an alliance as old as our nation . . . Paul Martin is the best hope to restore Canada's fractured relations with the United States . . . Conservatives must unite or forever languish in opposition.
Brian Mulroney is not without views.
These are good days for the former prime minister. After years of investigation, recrimination and lawsuits, the RCMP has finally ended the Airbus investigation, vindicating Mr. Mulroney and giving new credence to his accusation that he was the subject of a legal and political witch hunt.
Better still, Brian and Mila Mulroney celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this month, while next month marks the 20th anniversary of the day Mr. Mulroney won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party.
And tomorrow, in Washington, Mr. Mulroney will receive the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service. (Past honorees include former U.S. secretaries of state George Shultz and James Baker, former federal reserve chairman Paul Volcker and former Canadian ambassador to the United States, Allan Gotlieb.)
But though life is good, when it comes to the question of Canada and the Iraq war, Brian Mulroney is an angry man.
"For 135 years, Canada has made common cause with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia in defence of liberty around the world." He leans forward in the sofa of his spacious Montreal law office, his rumbling baritone rising in indignation. "We fought with them in the First World War, in the Second World War, in Korea, in the Cold War, and in the gulf war, in defence of freedom and liberty. We're not a nation of peacekeepers. We're a nation of warriors."
But when the U.S. President, in concert with his British and Australian allies, asked for Canada's help in Iraq, ". . . our answer is no. We are going to repudiate this alliance with the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia that has served us so well. We have new allies -- the Chinese, the Russians and the Germans. And I say, no thanks."
Mr. Mulroney, who travels extensively in the United States and visited U.S. President George W. Bush in the White House several months ago, believes Canadians still don't understand how much damage has been done to what used to be the world's closest alliance.
"You have to be oblivious to reality to fail to understand the hostility and concern in the United States in some quarters" toward the Canadian government, he says. "I was personally astonished, flabbergasted by the extent to which the Americans were aware of what we had done and the manner in which we had done it."
As such, he believes it is irrelevant whether Canada agrees to participate with the United States in their ballistic missile defence system.
"I don't think the Americans much care" whether Canada signs on, he said, dismissively. "They're going to do this anyway. Canada's role is now peripheral. What you see out of the government of Canada now is what you see out of the governments of France and Germany: a rather vigorous but inelegant act of contrition . . . But I'm not so sure the enthusiasm is reciprocated."
It should be noted that the Liberal government, in debating whether to sign on to missile defence, is sounding anything but contrite.
Mr. Mulroney, however, is optimistic that Paul Martin will be able to repair much of the damage to the Canada-U.S. relationship.
"I think that Paul Martin will have a leadership style, with regards to this very important matter, that's much more mature and much more thoughtful than what we're enduring today," he says. "I think that will be good for Canada. I think it will remove this personal burden that has been placed on our country and on this relationship by some of the decisions that have been taken."
Just to remind you, Mr. Mulroney is a Conservative, talking about a future Liberal prime minister.
But Mr. Mulroney's Progressive Conservative Party is in desperate straits, its leadership race being virtually ignored by press and public alike, its membership levels dismayingly low, its chances of a major breakthrough in the next election virtually nil.
That, at least, is conventional wisdom. Mr. Mulroney is not so sure.
"Do our prospects look brilliant? No. Do they look promising? It all depends."
The leading candidates for the Tory leadership are in their 30s. Paul Martin is in his 60s. Mr. Mulroney and newly elected Quebec Premier Jean Charest can both point to the effect of a big debate victory in reviving a leader's fortunes. And the Canadian Alliance has had a decade to bill itself as a national alternative to the Conservatives, and yet remains locked in its role as a voice of regional protest.
Still, "I'm a realist," says Mr. Mulroney, "and I'm certainly not going to tell you that everything is hunky-dory."
So what is to be done? At this point, the former prime minister speaks with excruciating slowness, every word precisely weighed.
"If I were a candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party (pause) and I were to win the leadership of the party (pause) my first order of business, after I had secured the position (pause) would be to sit down, and to look very objectively (pause) and selflessly, at this challenge," he says.
Canadian voters, says Mr. Mulroney, are telling the Conservatives: "We will only give them the opportunity to govern our country, when they prove to us that they have the authority to govern themselves. The unity of this country will never be entrusted to people who cannot unite themselves."
It is, then, for Progressive Conservatives to make the necessary first move in finding a way to unite all conservatives east and west, English and French.
Can it happen? He's not sure. "Maybe attitudes have hardened to the point where we have to give this another go or two. I don't know. It all depends on how often people want to re-elect Jean Chr?tien or his successor."
Brian Mulroney was the last conservative politician to forge a coalition of alienated Westerners and Quebec nationalists, and present them as a governing alternative, one that secured the consent of Ontario voters.
Just when a journalist will be able to sit down to interview the next former Conservative prime minister seems impossible even to imagine.