With a healthy dose of humour, hinged largely on anti-liberal sentiment, Brian Mulroney brought his book tour to Calgary.
He was in town Wed., Sep. 26, to promote his new book Memoirs: 1939-1993. The former prime minister first gave a speech, then settled behind a table to sign books.
Mulroney's sense of humour was evidenced early in the talk when the microphone he was speaking into began squealing. Demonstrating the quick wit needed to attain the country's top political post, Mulroney easily made humorous a situation that could have otherwise been embarrassing.
"The liberals are everywhere," he exclaimed to the audience. "I tell you, it's one conspiracy after another."
This wit was on display throughout the rest of the speech. Perhaps the greatest demonstration of it was while he recounted a story about his time spent in the hospital two years ago.
"[I was in an] all French-speaking hospital in Montreal," said Mulroney. "I'm sitting there, just happy to be alive, and pretty pleased with myself. A guy stands up over there, and he says to me, the only English-speaker in the whole thing--he's smelling like Molson's brewery, short shorts, running shoes on, and a t-shirt, and no teeth--he says in a loud voice in English, 'prime minister Mulroney, is that you?' And I said, feeling pretty good about myself, 'yes, this is me.' He comes over and he bends down and looks at me right in the wheel chair, and he says 'my God. You look awful.'"
The speech was not entirely a showcase of the former prime minister's potential success as a stand up comedian, though. After discussing NAFTA, he addressed another serious issue--the one he is perhaps most despised for-- the imposition of the GST.
"Another thing that has taken a lot of abuse, was the GST," said Mulroney. "My late mother always told me to give credit where credit is due. I feel I must tell you tonight, in Calgary, that the GST was entirely Michael Wilson's idea. GST, people don't know, because it was kept a secret pretty well by the media--GST replaced the 13.5 per cent secret manufacturers tax that was hidden in the product, crippling our exports. We removed the 13.5 per cent tax, which killed off our exports, because it made them 13.5 per cent more expensive in the United States and elsewhere, and we brought in the GST which was a consumption tax, which came off at the border. It was part of a much larger design to strengthen the Canadian economy. The truth is, it took nine hard years by my government, and six hard years by the Chretien government, to get rid of an economic disaster."
As Mulroney begins talking about the Chretien government, and the ways in which it made false claims about his own government and left the Liberals in tremendous debt, it occurred to him that Chretien may also come to this location when he writes a book.
"I find that disgraceful," he said. "It's unbecoming of a former prime minister to be out peddling a book."
He also discussed the problems his government faced regarding national debt, and over-spending of government when he came to power.
"Forget the interest on the debt, program spending was taking $1.23 for every $1.00 we brought in," said Mulroney. "When we left, thanks to people like Don Mazankowski and Michael Wilson, that $1.23 was reduced to $0.97."
Mulroney told an interesting story about Nelson Mandela--a story that showed that Mandela also had a highly developed sense of humour.
"I should tell you that Mandela is not without a sense of humour himself," he said. "We had helped out financially, as you know, in the lead up to the constitutional congress, and he needed more money. I was having lunch with him in Zimbabwe, and he said to me 'Brian, we're going to need a little more help, to get this thing done.' Canada had already been pretty generous, so I said to him 'well Nelson, what did you have in mind?' He said 'I'm going to need about another ten million dollars.' And I said 'well, alright we'll give you the ten million.' And I turn to Joe Clark and say 'Joe, let's get that done.' Mandela gets up, says 'Brian, you're a great prime minister, and Canada is a magnificent, caring friend. By the way, could you make that in U.S. dollars?'"
Quoting Winston Churchill at the end of his speech, Mulroney explained his motivation for writing the book.
"When they asked [Winston Churchill], 'prime minister, how do you think history is going to remember you?' Churchill said 'I think they're going to remember me pretty well. Because I plan to write it myself,'" said Mulroney.