Senator Bellemare pays tribute to the late Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, P.C., C.C., G.O.Q.

By: The Hon. Diane Bellemare

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Parliament from across the Ottawa River, Ottawa

Hon. Diane Bellemare: Honourable senators, as we mark the passing of the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, I wish to extend my sincere condolences to his wife, Mila, his children and his friends, and pay tribute to him. Irish Quebecer Brian Mulroney was a masterful speaker and skilful listener, talents we rarely see today. I witnessed that for myself on three occasions. Shortly after taking office in 1984, Prime Minister Mulroney wanted to demonstrate that he intended to govern for all Canadians and build consensus. He brought 300 economic leaders from business associations and unions together for a major gathering in Ottawa. I was a university professor at the time, and I attended with my province’s union delegation as a workshop rapporteur.

In his opening remarks, Brian Mulroney made it very clear that he was there to listen. I also saw him at work abroad in 1989, when he headed up a Canadian delegation of business people in Moscow to support President Gorbachev’s perestroika. I was there with my husband. I was very impressed by the weight of his words and the hopefulness he expressed about the decentralization of the Soviet Empire. Big challenges didn’t scare him.

Then, in the summer of 2015, I was privileged to have a one-on-one with him. We spent over an hour talking about Senate modernization. I wanted to run my ideas by the former prime minister, who’d had to contend with a Senate that wasn’t very receptive to his free trade and GST proposals. Those were revolutionary ideas at the time.

We discussed the role of the Senate and the institutional conditions needed to ensure it could better play its role as a chamber of sober second thought. At first, he listened to me carefully. Then, before I even had the time to finish my analysis, he interrupted me, saying that we had to put an end to the two-party system in the Senate, that the temptation for the governments in power to try to control the Senate was too strong, and that this was all too easy to do when senators were appointed and there were only two groups of senators. Brian Mulroney confirmed my analysis and went a step further.

I asked him whether he was encouraging me to try to create a third group of independent senators, like in the House of Lords. He answered yes, and added in a serious voice, “but wait until after the next election.” I followed his advice.

Brian Mulroney was a master of dialogue and negotiation. He knew how to listen to groups and individuals alike, a prerequisite for achieving meaningful change. I thank the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney for his memorable contribution to Canada’s development.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

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