When he stepped down as leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives in 1993, Brian Mulroney was often called “Lyin’ Brian,” even by Canadians who had earlier helped him become this country’s 18th prime minister.
Many people, angry about the Goods and Services Tax he saddled this country with, displayed bumper stickers on their vehicles featuring the image of a rude hand gesture and the words “Tax this Brian!”
In short, there wasn’t much love for the self-made lawyer from Baie-Comeau, Que.
And today, it appears, there still isn’t.
Many Canadians didn’t trust Mulroney before he got anywhere from $225,000 to $300,000 in secret cash payments from a notorious arms dealer named Karlheinz Schreiber.
And they still don’t trust him now that they know about the payments, and the fact the former PM failed to disclose them as he collected $2.1 million from taxpayers in a libel award after the Liberals accused him of accepting bribes in the so-called Airbus Affair.
It’s a little suspicious that Mulroney didn’t even bother to invest the money he got from Schreiber in a GIC, and earn at least a modest amount of interest.
After all, that might have allowed the general public to find about the cash Mulroney received in paper bags.
Similarly suspicious is the fact that Mulroney didn’t declare the money to the taxman until 1999, even though he’d been paid in 1993-94.
Some people allege he only declared the money to the Canada Revenue Agency because its existence was about to become public.
Recently, at the Oliphant Inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber fiasco, the former PM became tearful when asked by his own lawyer about the stress that accusations of wrongdoing have caused him and his family.
Many Canadians watching his testimony on TV must have thought, “Oh, cry me a river!”
Asked what he thought about the former Tory leader’s emotional performance in front of the cameras, Ontario president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Sid Ryan, an Irish bloke himself, joked that the Irish tend to be full of blarney at the best of times.
There’s probably nothing Mulroney can do now to redeem his reputation, and that’s a shame.
After all, he did accomplish some good during his time in office.
The North American Free Trade Agreement he spearheaded has undoubtably been good for Canada’s economy.
And Mulroney was certainly forward thinking in pushing for the end of apartheid in South Africa and protecting the environment, around the globe, in general.
Yet, when all is said and done, to many Canadians – he’ll always be Lyin’ Brian.
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.