Canada’s former PM Mulroney, who led North American free trade, dies at 84

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hails Mulroney’s role in creating ‘modern, dynamic, and prosperous country’.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney governed Canada between 1984 and 1993 [File: Lars Hagberg/AFP]

Canada’s former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who led his country into a sweeping free trade deal with the United States, has died. He was 84.

Mulroney, who governed Canada from 1984 to 1993, died peacefully surrounded by family, his daughter, Caroline Mulroney, said on Thursday.

“On behalf of my mother and our family, it is with great sadness we announce the passing of my father, The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, Canada’s 18th Prime Minister,” she said in a post on X.

Born in the French-speaking province of Quebec, Mulroney worked as a lawyer and then business executive before successfully challenging for the leadership of the centre-right Progressive Conservatives in 1983 and entering parliament later that year.

Mulroney led the Conservatives to a historic win over the Liberals of Pierre Trudeau the following year and retained power in the 1988 election.

During his nine-year tenure, Mulroney emulated the liberal economic policies that were ascendent in the US and the UK during the 1980s under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

In one of his most consequential achievements, he signed the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement with Reagan in 1988.

The deal, which later expanded to include Mexico as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), helped boost Canadian exports, but was criticised in subsequent years for encouraging the outsourcing of jobs to cheaper locales.

“Generally speaking, it’s been a success,” Mulroney said in an interview with CBC in 2012. “It hasn’t been a panacea, but I never viewed it as that.”

Canada’s last Cold War leader, Mulroney also opposed apartheid in South Africa, forged a landmark treaty on acid rain with Washington and led efforts to respond to the 1984 Ethiopian famine.

Mulroney resigned in 1993 with the lowest approval rating in Canadian history amid growing separatist sentiment in Quebec.

At the next election, the Progressive Conservative party suffered one of the worst wipeouts in modern political history, losing 154 of 156 seats in parliament.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday he was “devastated” to hear of Mulroney’s death.

“He never stopped working for Canadians, and he always sought to make this country an even better place to call home. I’ll never forget the insights he shared with me over the years – he was generous, tireless, and incredibly passionate,” Trudeau said on X.

“As we mourn his passing and keep his family and friends in our thoughts, let us also acknowledge – and celebrate – Mr Mulroney’s role in building the modern, dynamic, and prosperous country we all know today.”

After leaving politics, Mulroney faced scrutiny over a leaked letter that revealed he had been accused by police of taking bribes from a German-Canadian arms dealer, Karlheinz Schreiber.

Mulroney sued the Liberal government and won an apology and damages over the claims in 1997. Mulroney later apologised for taking payments from Schreiber while denying illegal conduct, saying that agreeing to be introduced to Schreiber was the “biggest mistake in life, by far”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies