HomeArticleWho Loves the Legacy of Brian Mulroney?

Who Loves the Legacy of Brian Mulroney?

Who Loves the Legacy of Brian Mulroney?

Clip source: Who Loves the Legacy of Brian Mulroney? – Socialist Action Canada

March 18, 2024 | by Barry Weisleder

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Justin Trudeau, Jean Chretien, Pierre Poilievre and Jagmeet Singh echoed media moguls in saying that they admire the record of Canada’s 18th prime minister, Brian Mulroney, who died on February 29, 2024 at the age of 84. This is more than a matter of expressing apt condolences to the family and friends of the departed one. It is the embrace of a political legacy that, from the standpoint of the working class, is utterly deplorable.

Mulroney, diplomatically touted as a highly “consequential” PM, left the vast majority of people in the Canadian state robbed of wealth and weakened in the face of the corporate agenda to which Mulroney was utterly devoted. The lad of humble roots from the small resource town of Baie-Comeau, Quebec scrambled to make himself a career as a lawyer, as Iron Ore Corp. president (where he earned his anti-labour credentials), and as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

When prime minister in 1984, he spoke to the elite Economic Club in New York, and declared that Canada is “open for business.” That slogan translated into a trade deal, first with the United States and then with Mexico, which de-regulated investment and saw hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs move to low wage zones around the world. This hit auto workers particularly hard as U.S. plants migrated to Mexico where authentic unions face violent repression. It was the advent of neo-liberal “globalization”, co-authored by President Ronald Reagan (who Brian serenaded at the 1985 Quebec Summit) and Britain’s PM Margaret Thatcher. The result is palpable. Before the North American Free Trade Agreement, manufacturing constituted 20 per cent of Canada’s GDP; today it is only 10 per cent. While CEO salaries and benefits shot up, workers’ wages have stagnated and young workers face increasingly precarious employment. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the richest CEOs are paid 246 times more than the average worker.

With the Foreign Investment Review Agency of the former Liberal government gone, Mulroney found it easier to privatize Air Canada, Canadian National Railways (CN) and Petro Canada as well as the famous Connaught Laboratories, the publicly owned pharmaceutical company that might have produced the needed vaccine during the COVID crisis. (Stephen Harper sold the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies and Pierre Poilievre threatens to de-fund the CBC if he forms the government.)

Bombardier gained the most from the sell-off of Air Canada and its acquisitions, becoming the world’s third largest aircraft manufacturer by cornering the regional airliner market, applying the technology funded by Canadian taxpayers. Bombardier later sold its regional airliner business to Mitsubishi, reducing the sector to a hollow shell.

Moreover, Mulroney sought an ‘investor state dispute settlement’ rule — under pressure from American corporations claiming millions of dollars from Canada for regulations protecting the environment. That provision was removed in the renegotiated North American agreement thanks to a massive campaign by unions and progressive organizations — although they mostly appealed to Canadian nationalism rather than advance a socialist working class agenda. But much more damage was to come from “Lyin’ Brian”.

Being a junior imperialist partner to the American behemoth economically implies being its military vassal as well. Mulroney dutifully complied, following NATO policy wherever it led. As the Soviet Union disintegrated in the late 1980s, NATO shifted its attention to Eastern Europe. It expanded its presence up to Russia’s security perimeter; it fomented ‘colour revolutions’ and prepared for war in the Balkans, while continuing to back regimes subservient to Washington and Ottawa across Latin America. It bolstered America’s chief military outpost in the Middle East, the Zionist colonial-setter state in Occupied Palestine. The PM did differ with Reagan on Star Wars and Cuba. Still, they managed to harmonize.

Mulroney’s outspoken personal opposition to South African apartheid, after the Black masses did the heavy lifting, prompted questions about the apartheid practices of colonial-setter Canada. Just a month after Nelson Mandela visited in June 1990, Mulroney authorized the deployment of 4,500 combat troops to counter Mohawk resistance to a golf course and condominium development on Indigenous ancestral burial ground near Oka, Quebec. This assault normalized subsequent military and police response to land defenders and water protectors – even as Ottawa adopted ‘reconciliation’ as official government policy.

Corruption was a leitmotif of the Mulroney years, exemplified by the infamous Airbus affair. German corporate lobbyist Karlheinz Shreiber gave the PM a $250,000 bribe to persuade Ottawa to purchase Airbus aircraft, and thus help the European manufacturer gain a toehold in the North American commercial aviation market. Air Canada was then still a public corporation. Mulroney was found out, but he was tagged only with the judicial ruling that he had “an inappropriate relationship” with Schreiber. There was no criminal conviction. Brian kept the money. The lawyers got paid. Ah, the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie!

As a staunch federalist and a fierce opponent of national liberation, Mulroney aimed to liquidate the national question in the Canadian state, once and for all. After the fiasco of the Meech Lake Accord, which was rightly derogated as a dirty, backroom deal, he tried again with the Charlottetown Accord. It failed to meet Quebec’s minimum demands for sovereignty, didn’t entrench women’s rights, and fell short of Indigenous peoples’ aspirations. At the same time, it weakened the capacity of the federal government to satisfy social needs across English Canada. In short, the Charlottetown deal would have furthered economic decentralization and de-regulation without freeing oppressed nations. The Accord went down to defeat in a referendum on October 26, 1992 with 54.3 per cent voting NO. In Quebec the result was 56.7 per cent NO. A majority of Indigenous people said NO too. Mulroney, who famously “rolled the dice”, was utterly humiliated. His profound failure at ‘state-craft’ sparked the rise of the Bloc Quebecois and the reactionary Reform Party, leading to today’s Conservative Party under Poilievre. The disintegration of the ruling class consensus was an unintended consequence of Mulroney’s monumental hubris.

Nothing contributed more to Brian Mulroney’s profound unpopularity than his Goods and Services tax. Tory finance minister Michael Wilson proposed the creation of a 9 per cent national sales tax in 1991, ostensibly to replace the 13.5 per cent Manufacturers’ Sales Tax at the wholesale level. It was a blatant tax grab that hit everyone regardless of ability to pay (the very definition of a regressive tax) – a poor substitute for a tax on wealthy corporations and individuals. The GST transferred billions of dollars from workers and impoverished people to the state that serves the super-rich. This really sealed the PMs legacy as a tool of Corporate Canada.

Mulroney’s tenure as PM showcased the depravity of neoliberalism. His death demonstrated how the political and media grand poohbahs are trying to rewrite history, in real time. You can guess why they feel they must do this, especially when capitalism is exhausting its credibility in the face of a world on fire, with humanity burdened by burgeoning inequality and forever wars.

And so, Justin Trudeau’s absurd claim that Mulroney created a “modern, dynamic, and prosperous country” is just ludicrous bombast — truly worthy of an admirer of the ‘life of Brian.’

Note: Highlighting added.


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