Anticipating Mulroney (Dec 13, 2007)

Waiting for Brian

The problem is that we already know what he is going to say, and even — thanks to the usual carefully parceled out hints from his high-priced, prepare-the-way PR team — the broad strokes of how he is going to say it.

When he appears before a parliamentary ethics committee this morning to explain away how he came to take $300,000 in cash from German-Canadian lobbyist and influence peddler Karlheinz Schrieber, Brian Mulroney will be flanked by his dutifully doting family. This will, of course, include telegenic son Ben, the Canadian Idol TV star, and loyal, loving wife Mila. (Mila, it will inevitably be noted by one of the TV commentators, convinced Brian to curb his woe-is-me drinking after he’d lost his first leadership bid so he could focus all his prodigious energies on becoming the prime minister he was meant to be. Which he eventually accomplished, it will probably not be noted, with a little financial help from Karlheiinz.)

Mulroney will inevitably invoke the memory of his own late father, Ben Mulroney, Sr., a working stiff who understood the value of a buck and the importance of a man’s reputation in this world, and who raised his son right.

Brian will then cast himself in his usual role as the poor electrician’s boy from Baie Comeau who, by dint of ambition, talent and hard work — and, oh, yes, the love and support of the family you see behind him (close up, please) — rose to occupy the highest office in this great and glorious land of ours.

And how gosh-darn proud he is of that.

Which is why it is so important for Canadians to know their former two-term, back-to-back-majorities prime minister is not a crook.

Yes, yes, we’re getting to the guts of it now.

No, not quite yet…

Brian Mulroney will then remind us once again that he does not come from a wealthy background like some pampered, Nazi-sympathizing wastrels he could — but won’t — name (take that, Pierre Elliott Trudeau); that he worked his way to the very top of the Iron Ore Company of Canada through good connections and long lunches; that he earned buckets full of money, flew in a company jet and had his own personal chauffeur; that he had to take a whopping cut in pay and circumstance in order to serve his country as prime minister (not that he’s complaining, of course, but those are the facts); that, by the time he left Ottawa after 10 incredibly successful years in office — he won back-to-back majority governments, you may recall, the first time in Canadian history that a Conservative prime minister had achieved such distinction, and he… but he digresses — Brian Mulroney was still a relatively young man with a large and growing family who all needed to be fed, clothed and educated in the finest private schools and universities America had to offer.

It was at this traumatic, difficult, uncertain, vulnerable time that the Evil Karlheinz Whatshisname approached him to entice him to serve as his legal representative in a number of totally legitimate future businesses that Schreiber was in the process of cooking up. What businesses? Pasta, maybe… I think he mentioned pasta…

Since Mulroney had no job to go to and no prospects to speak of (other than a gazillion offers of appointments to multinational corporate boards of directors and multi, multi-thousand-dollar invites to share his wisdom with various and sundry well-heeled groups), he reluctantly, hesitantly, warily agreed to take on Schreiber, who he only knew vaguely as a Conservative party supporter to be a client and accept a small retainer from him to represent those legitimate business interests in the future and blah blah blah…

How was he to know that the guy would try to pay him in cash? With money he got for peddling Airbus planes to Air Canada? At secret meetings in hotels. And before he’d even quit his job as a member of parliament.

Mulroney was shocked, of course, but he accepted the envelope so as not to insult the man. And he kept taking envelopes stuffed with cash because… well, that was a terrible mistake. Brian Mulroney knows that now.

It was — it’s mea culpa time — a colossal mistake, the biggest boo boo in his long and distinguished career… Did he mention the back-to-back majority governments?… The important thing is that it really, really was a mistake, an oversight, a goof of the sort anyone might make, and that Brian Mulroney is not now nor ever has been a crook…


Listening to Brian Mulroney finesse the facts later today will almost make me long for more of Conrad Black’s brutally arrogant, I-did-it, so-what honesty.


Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column, Kimber’s Nova Scotia, appears in The Sunday Daily News.

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