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My Conversation with Brian Mulroney

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What follows is a transcript of Conrad Black's interview with former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, which appeared Monday night on the world premiere of the new television show The Zoomer.

Conrad Black: Well Brian, pardon my informality but we've known each other nearly 50 years and it would be a bit contrived if we weren't on a first name basis at this point. Thank you for joining us; it is an honour to have you as the first subject of one of these conversations on this new program of ours.

Brian Mulroney: I'm delighted to be with you.

CB: On behalf of the whole crew, thanks very much. May I start since it's quite topical by asking you as somebody who went through the wars of the, as many consider them to be, authoritarian laws in Quebec, what do you think of the controversy over the charter of values in that province?

BM: Well, I think it was a needless controversy. No one needed this. The protections you could legitimately look for in a democratic society, or need, are all there, have been there since 1975 provincially, and federally since 1982 with the charter, and so if you want to build a dynamic inclusive society you've got all the instruments at hand. This limits that, and sends out what I considered to be a negative, inappropriate signal to immigrants and to the vast immigrant communities that are bringing prosperity to Canada. We can't function as a country without strengthening and enhancing the number of immigrants that we bring in. That's life, that's the way it's going to be. One of the pleasures I get now when I look back at my own time in office is not the bigger ticket items that historians look at but the fact that I moved immigration up to 250,000 a year, the highest in the history of Canada, even throughout the recession, because I believed that you can't a great country like ours without immigration and lots of it. So this is the wrong signal to send to the immigrants. Moreover, while I didn't study the legislation carefully, I did look at it and it's clearly unconstitutional. I think la Cour d'Appel du Québec and the Supreme Court of Canada will so rule.

CB: But it is a place where the Notwithstanding Clause can be invoked, isn't it?

BM: Yes, it is. But you know there is, there is a weakening in the resolve - you can see it in Quebec - to all of a sudden separate for no ... there's no fury, there's no frenzy there's no great national debate, there's no impulse ...

CB: There's no great grievance, really.

BM: No there's no national dream that anyone's articulating. It's kind of pedestrian. How can we put the stick now in with this Charte des valeurs, and maybe can do this and maybe we can do ... it's all kind of penny ante stuff as opposed to the great and glorious dreams for a separate Quebec which were articulated by a great democrat, eloquent democrat like René Lévesque, WHO, BY THE WAY, WOULD NEVER HAVE TOLERATED THIS CHARTE DES VALEURS! He was a fundamental democrat. He believed in freedoms of all kinds and this stuff wouldn't have passed muster with him which is, I think, one of the reasons why he had so much appeal.

CB: Moving into more specific political matters, would you comment on, I mean you've crossed swords often with Pierre Trudeau, I hope you're not uncomfortable saying something about your professional evaluation of Justin Trudeau as a party leader.

BM: Well, I happened to be in Toronto meeting with the editorial board of The Globe and Mail and the National Post the day that Mr. Trudeau launched his campaign for leadership. They said, "Justin Trudeau is going to announce his candidacy today, what do you think?" I think the Conservatives will underestimate him at their peril. He's a good-looking guy, he's smart. What's not to like with this picture? So in the present context, Trudeau's big strength is ... that he's not Stephen Harper. That's what he's doing now. Will that get him across the street? I don't know, but for the moment because Mr. Harper has his own persona, and his own virtues, and they're not inconsiderable in terms of political leadership and accomplishments. But on the personal attributes, Justin is younger, he has more panache and for the moment that has its own appeal.

You know Conrad, if you look at what he's got going here: Mr. Harper defeated Mr. Martin, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Justin Trudeau is no Stéphane Dion.

CB: Let me ask you about Thomas Mulcair who after all is the leader of the Opposition at the moment. Can he hold that position? It seems on its face to be an aberrant status for the NDP. What's your call on that?

BM: Well, I don't know Mr. Mulcair. I thought that he performed well when he introduced that new style in the House of Commons asking those terse meaningful questions about Mr. Harper on those senatorial appointments. I thought that was the zenith of his parliamentary career. He's going to have to do better and more. He's got Harper who's going to come at him all guns blazing and he's got Trudeau who's going to do the same thing. Mulcair, he's in an invidious position. They say Trudeau has to get some policy out; he doesn't. The guy who's got to get policy out fast is Mulcair.

CB: And it has to be to the right of where the NDP traditionally rules.

BM: Exactly.

CB: Do you think it was an astute move politically, not getting into your own preference as to what should be done, but politically was it a good move for Justin Trudeau to propose the legalization of marijuana?

BM: When it happened I thought it was dumb because I had read what Margaret had said years ago. Mrs. Trudeau has written that she was very much against the use of marijuana because, in her case, it had lead to serious drug use that damaged her and damaged other people. Then I found that my daughter-in-law, Jessica, told me that she thought that it might be a generational thing that we were into. My guess is what she meant was that I was in the wrong generation, and I think I was, because it emphasized his youth and it emphasized the big thing that "he's not Stephen Harper". That's his big thing. That's what he's going to run on. Don't worry about me, just remember, "I'm not Stephen Harper".

I ran in 1984 on "I'm not Pierre Trudeau" and I just got tons of votes because of that. I think it wasn't so dumb any more you know. I don't agree with it, but I think Jessica was right. It was a generational thing and it sends a signal to a vast reservoir of youth we have that says look, "I'm not Stephen Harper." I can understand all of this stuff and if you do it, I'm not going to put you in the slammer.

CB: Well Brian, for 48 years, every conversation we've ever had has been a pleasure for me and thank you for joining us. This one has been also.

BM: Thank you for having me, Conrad, and good luck with the show.

CB: Well I'm following your advice and starting a new career.

BM: Absolutely!

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