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Former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney dies aged 84

The country’s 18th prime minister died peacefully and surrounded by family, daughter Caroline Mulroney said in a social media post.

Brian Mulroney, the former prime minister of Canada, who has died aged 84 (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Canada Obit Mulroney Brian Mulroney, the former prime minister of Canada, who has died aged 84 (Jacquelyn Martin/AP) (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has died. He was 84.

He forged close ties with two Republican US presidents through a sweeping free trade agreement that was once vilified but now celebrated.

The country’s 18th prime minister died peacefully and surrounded by family, daughter Caroline Mulroney said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Mulroney’s family said last summer he was improving daily after a heart procedure that followed treatment for prostate cancer in early 2023. A family spokesman said Mulroney died at a hospital in Palm Beach, Florida, where he was being treated after a recent fall.

Former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, left, greets then-US vice president Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they arrive at a state dinner in in Ottawa 2016 (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canada Obit Mulroney Former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, left, greets then-US vice president Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they arrive at a state dinner in in Ottawa 2016 (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP) (Justin Tang/AP)

Leader of the Progressive Conservative party from 1983 to 1993, Mulroney served almost a decade as prime minister after he was first elected in 1984 after achieving the largest majority in Canadian history with 211 of 282 seats.

The win would mark Canada’s first Conservative majority government in 26 years. His government was re-elected in 1988.

Mulroney entered the job with widespread support, but he left with the lowest approval rating in Canadian history. His Progressive Conservative party suffered a devastating defeat just after he left office. But in the years after the loss, prime ministers sought his advice.

“He had the courage to do big things,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “He shaped our past, but he shapes our present and he will impact our future as well. He was an extraordinary statesman and he will be deeply, deeply missed.”

The man known for his charm was an ardent advocate of stronger US-Canadian relations. He pushed a free trade deal forward in no small part due to his friendship with US President Ronald Reagan.

Few Canadians around during his reign have forgotten the widely broadcast Mulroney-Reagan duet of When Irish Eyes Are Smiling at the Shamrock summit in Quebec City in 1985, named after the pair’s Irish heritage and the fact that their meeting fell on St Patrick’s Day. The 24-hour meeting opened the door to future free trade talks between the countries.

Along with a fan base of fellow conservative Margaret Thatcher, Mulroney also had an enduring friendship with former President George HW Bush.

Queen Elizabeth II toasts Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in Quebec City in 1987 (Ron Poling/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canada Obit Mulroney Queen Elizabeth II toasts Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in Quebec City in 1987 (Ron Poling/The Canadian Press via AP) (Ron Poling/AP)

Mulroney gave eulogies for both Reagan and Bush at their funerals. Reagan and Mulroney became friends as two national leaders during the last decade of the Cold War. Mulroney’s nine years in power overlapped with Bush’s four.

Former President George W Bush expressed sadness at Mulroney’s death and credited him with helping end the Cold War.

In a statement referencing the Canadian leader’s close relationship with his father, Mr Bush quoted from Mulroney’s words at the elder Bush’s funeral: “But the best ships are friendships, and may they always be.”

“May his ship sail on in fair winds and following seas,” the statement from Mr Bush and his wife, Laura, said.

It was Mulroney’s amiable relationship with his southern counterparts that helped develop the free-trade treaty, a hotly contested pact at the time. The trade deal led to a permanent realignment of the Canadian economy and huge increases in north-south trade. Canada is one of the most trade-dependent countries in the world. More than 75% of Canada’s exports go to the US.

“He unleashed free enterprise, crushed inflation, restored fiscal sanity and concluded one of the greatest free trade agreements the world has ever seen,” Canadian Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre said in a statement.

“On the world stage, he stood firmly on the side of Western allies against communism and for freedom. He was among the first and most strident to fight against South Africa’s Apartheid policy and champion the cause of Nelson Mandela.”

However, Mulroney’s administration was saddled with scandals and his time as prime minister came crashing down in 1993 when voters delivered a devastating election defeat to his Progressive Conservative Party, leaving it with just two seats in the 295-member House of Commons. He left shortly before the election result.

The defeat came amid widespread unhappiness over Canada’s then-depressed economy.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, right, applauds former prime minister Brian Mulroney during an official unveiling ceremony of Mulroney’s official portrait on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario in 2002 (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canada Obit Mulroney Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, right, applauds former prime minister Brian Mulroney during an official unveiling ceremony of Mulroney’s official portrait on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario in 2002 (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press via AP) (Tom Hanson/AP)

Under his leadership, a much-criticised 7% sales tax was pushed through, as well as the 1988 US-Canada Free Trade Agreement, after more than 100 years of tariff protection. The agreement later included Mexico in 1994, evolving into the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“Prime Minister Mulroney’s instrumental role in the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement laid the foundation for decades of economic co-operation and shared prosperity between the United States and Canada,” the US ambassador to Canada, David Cohen, said in a statement.

Mulroney was born March 20, 1939, in Baie-Comeau, an isolated smelting town on Quebec’s North Shore. The town mill was American-owned. Mulroney was raised on the notion that American investment meant jobs for his father and the other families in Baie-Comeau.

Hired as a labour lawyer by Montreal’s largest law firm, he later became the president of the Iron Ore Company of Canada, a subsidiary of Cleveland-based Hanna Mining.

In 1972, he met Mila Pivnicki by the pool at the Mount Royal Tennis Club. She was 14 years his junior. She would become his wife at age 19.

His was survived by his wife, Mila, and four children, Caroline, Mark, Nicolas and Ben, who is married to Jessica Mulroney.