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

By: The Hon. Peter Harder

Share this post:

Halls of Parliament, Ottawa

Hon. Peter Harder: Honourable senators, I would like to rise to say a few things on behalf of those of us who began our public service and political career under Brian Mulroney. That goes back more than a year or two.

I want to make three points. First, Brian Mulroney practised the politics of addition, not subtraction. At the 1983 convention, I was supporting the previous leader. I had been the chief of staff to Mr. Clark and, when he left the leadership to contest it, with Erik Nielsen as the interim leader. Going across the booth to vote on the last ballot, he came over to me and said, “Peter, everything is going to be all right.”

The next morning, I went to see him to hand in my letter of resignation. He said, “Put that away.” We began to talk about the addition necessary in politics. I said, “So there won’t be any retribution?” And he said, “I believe in John Kennedy. When John Kennedy got the Democratic nomination in 1960, he was asked, ’Mr. Kennedy, will there be any retribution?’ And he said, ’Only in Massachusetts.’”

So the politics of addition is something I believe we could all return to and learn from. He practised it not just on that day but where, later that night, if you recall, he spoke to Erik Nielsen on the platform, in public, on TV. He said to Erik Nielsen, “I know I wasn’t your first choice, but you were my first choice to be deputy leader.” By that act, he practised the politics of addition and brought a caucus with him that had not supported him, at least in the first ballots.

My point here is that we have much to learn about addition in politics.

Second, he was consequential not only in his tenure but also in his achievements. You achieve in politics, unlike in the private sector, when you use your political capital. You don’t save it. You use it to achieve things. Many of you have spoken about the achievements, so I won’t rehearse that list except to knowledge the breadth of it.

Senator Batters referred to Ukraine. He announced that decision while visiting in Kennebunkport with an American president, who said, “Please, don’t do it. Defer this for two weeks.” He did it right away.

When you talk about South Africa or the work on NAFTA or the Meech Lake Accord or the GST, it was all about using political capital to achieve something. That, too, is a gift and an insight that we could talk a bit more about even today.

The final point is this: All politics is personal. Every place I have been to for the last week, I have encountered people who told me their story of a call from Brian Mulroney or the like. I want to end with my story. When I got a call on a late Friday afternoon and was pulled out of a meeting, I thought my son had broken his leg. But it was, “Hello, Peter. This is Brian.” And he read the order-in-council appointing me as Deputy Minister of Immigration — a position that I did not seek and to which I did not know I was about to be named. All politics was personal.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

Share this post: