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RM Issue #030601

Mulroney gets hero's welcome at Tory convention

Canadian Press
Friday, May 30, 2003

Former Progressive Conservative Party Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gestures during his speech to delegates at the party's leadership convention in Toronto Friday.

-- Former prime minister Brian Mulroney received a hero's welcome at the federal Tory leadership convention Friday, using his first speech to a party convention in 10 years to slam his old foe, Jean Chretien.

Mulroney, who was often criticized for being too close to former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, was particulary scathing about the current state of Canada-U.S. relations under Chretien. The next Conservative leader, and by extension the next prime minister, he said, looking down at the five leadership candidates seated in the front row of the hall, "should have as his first obligation the capacity and the duty to refurbish the relationship (with the U.S.)"

Mulroney also implored the candidates vying to succeed Joe Clark in Saturday's leadership vote to lead with conviction and not be slaves to public opinion.

"For a generation raised on the bizarre proposition that leadership should be equated with popularity, how goofy can you be?" Mulroney told a packed hall of more than 2,000 cheering delegates at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

"When leadership is often the absolute antithesis of popularity, measured and published weekly, this can be a daunting challenge.

"In fact, political capital is not supposed to be hoarded. Rather it must be spent on great causes for one's country."

Mulroney, 63, spent all his capital during back-to-back Conservative majorities starting in 1984. He retired as one of Canada's most viscerally unpopular prime ministers.

But the rehabilitation of his image has evolved during the ensuing years as the Liberal governments of Chretien embraced some of Mulroney's most gut- wrenching policy shifts, such as North American free trade and the GST.

The emotional welcome accorded Mulroney at the convention stood in almost embarrassing contrast to the tepid response Clark received during a two-hour farewell tribute Thursday night.

Mulroney earned six standing ovations during his hour-long address and was mobbed by delegates as he left the hall. Clark, also 63 and a former prime minister, didn't get a single standing ovation during his farewell speech a night earlier.

Mulroney spent some minutes praising Clark's contribution as foreign affairs minister and constitutional minister during his governments, but used the bulk of his speech to defend his government's policies and to attack Chretien and Liberal heir apparent Paul Martin.

Aside from the souring of Canada-U.S. relations, Mulroney accused Chretien and Martin of lowering Canada's stature on the world stage.

Mulroney also spoke bitterly of Reform party founder Preston Manning, whom he says sowed the seeds of the conservative split in the country during the 1988 election.

"At the very moment the centre-right was gaining effectiveness in Canada . . . Mr. Manning chose to launch a new party and split the vote," he said.

He added that Chretien and Martin probably go to sleep at night thanking Manning to this very day.

Mulroney's views on reuniting the right have been in the news recently as he has emerged to give several media interviews, but his comments Friday did little to suggest an end to the current impasse.

While the next Tory leader must "turn the page" and "act selflessly" to build a winning coalition, said Mulroney, he also put the boots to the Canadian Alliance.

"Regional political movements have come and gone throughout our history," he said.

"They have all . . . eventually collapsed because they failed to articulate a broad, generous and inclusive vision of Canada. Regional rancour is no substitute for nation building and Canadians know this instinctively."

To that end, Mulroney said Conservatives will have to win seats in Quebec to restore the party to power.

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