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"Throughout our history, trade has been critical to Canada's livelihood. Now, almost one third of what we produce is exported. Few countries in the world are so dependent on trade. This trend ultimately threatens the jobs of many Canadians and the living standards of the nation as a whole. We must confront this threat. We must reverse this trend. To do so, we need a better, a fairer, and a more predictable trade relationship with the United States. At stake are more than two million jobs which depend directly on Canadian access to the U.S. market." -- Brian Mulroney, 1985
Canada's ability to compete on [sic] a world market was of primary importance to Brian Mulroney, [sic - i.e. 'an ability'] that he felt had been eroded by years of Liberal social spending. Canadian economic success could only be secured by access to foreign markets; this Mulroney achieved through the 1988 Free Trade Agreement with the United States and the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1992. Martin Brian Mulroney was born in Baie-Comeau, Quebec in 1939, the son of an electrician. At fourteen, the young Mulroney went to St. Thomas, a Catholic high school in Chatham, New Brunswick. In 1955, he attended St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, studying arts and commerce before majoring in political science. After graduating with honours in 1959, Mulroney started studying law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, then transferred to Laval University in Quebec City, a year later. In 1964, he was offered a position with the prestigious law firm of Howard, Cate, Ogilvy et al., and moved to Montreal to work with them.
One of his first challenges as a lawyer was working on Laurent Picard's Commission of Inquiry on the St. Lawrence Ports, where he gained experience as a negotiator in labour relations. Mulroney first came into prominence as a lawyer when he was a commissioner in the Cliche Commission of Inquiry into the Quebec construction industry, set up by Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa in 1974. The commission uncovered unprecedented corruption and violence in the construction industry. As a result of this high-profile report, Mulroney became well-known in Quebec.
He had been involved in politics since his university days, when he joined the Conservative party and campaigned for the Nova Scotia Tories in 1956. Mulroney also participated in campus politics and served as prime minister of St. Francis Xavier's model parliament. While at Laval, he was elected Vice-President of the Conservative Students' Federation and by 1961 he was a student advisor to Diefenbaker. As a lawyer in Montreal, he continued working for the Conservatives behind the scenes, producing pamphlets, raising money and seeking out candidates.
In 1976, Mulroney ran for federal leadership of the Conservative party, but lost to Joe Clark on the 3rd ballot. Although he was well known in Quebec as a result of the Cliche Commission, he was not as well known to the party outside the province. Furthermore, the fact that he had never been elected to Parliament was seen by many as a handicap. After the convention, Mulroney accepted an offer of Executive Vice-president of the Iron Ore Company of Canada and was appointed President the following year. In 1983, he ran again for Conservative leadership. He was the only bilingual Quebec candidate, and as such, his ability to appeal to Tories across the country was considered a great advantage. Mulroney won the leadership and gained his first seat in the House of Commons through a by-election in the riding of Central Nova. In the election the following year, Mulroney led the Conservatives to the greatest majority in Canadian history, winning 211 seats in the House of Commons. Four years later, the Conservatives won another majority. In his nine years in office, Mulroney brought in the two free trade agreements and introduced the Goods and Services Tax. Language rights in New Brunswick were entrenched in Canada's constitution and the Nunavut Agreement with the Inuit of the Eastern Arctic set in motion the creation of a third territory in Canada, representing a major achievement in Aboriginal land settlement. Internationally, Mulroney's stand on South African Apartheid won him respect around the world. He also negotiated an acid rain treaty with the United States and was an architect of the Sommet de la francophonie.
He also endeavoured to achieve constitutional reform. The Meech Lake Accord attempted to define conditions under which Quebec could sign the 1982 Constitution, but failed to become law when it was not passed by the Manitoba and Newfoundland legislatures. Another endeavour to secure constitutional unanimity was undertaken with the Charlottetown Accord in 1992. A national referendum was called on this agreement, but it was ultimately defeated.
Mulroney resigned from politics in 1993.
Source: Canada's Prime Ministers, 1867 - 1994: Biographies and Anecdotes. [Ottawa]: National Archives of Canada, . 40 p.