ANTIGONISH, N.S. — Brian Mulroney returned once more to St. Francis Xavier University, his Nova Scotia alma mater, for the official ground-breaking of a $100 million project for which he raised the money and which in part bears his name.
The Brian Mulroney Institute of Government will be dedicated to the study of government, Canada-U.S. relations, and global affairs for undergraduate students.
It will open in May 2019, a few years later than first expected — a delay Mulroney blamed Wednesday on ambition.
"As more money was raised, the plans expanded. It's now going to be a 95,000 square foot building ... Oh, that's big — believe me that's big," he said in an interview.
"It's been five years. I raised $65 million from the private sector and $35 million from governments. This took a lot of time, I'll tell you that. And a lot of meetings, a lot of travel across Canada and the United States, London, Paris, the Middle East. It was a major endeavour, I'll tell you that."
Canada's 18th prime minister was joined Wednesday by his daughter Caroline Mulroney Lapham — who this month was named the Progressive Conservative candidate for the Ontario provincial riding of York-Simcoe — and his wife, Mila.
He recalled going to St. Francis Xavier as a 16-year-old boy fresh from Baie-Comeau, Que., a working-class Irish kid who only got to university because of the sacrifices of his parents. He said proudly that his fundraising includes $10 million for scholarships and bursaries, including a million for African Nova Scotians and Aboriginals.
"Who knows what's going to happen in life, and wouldn't it be wonderful if as a result of this, either an African Nova Scotia or an Aboriginal turned up 20 years, 30 years from now being prime minister as a result of the opportunity that he's given to go to StFX? That would be nice, you know."
The former PM said Mulroney Hall will house the only public policy institute at a Canadian university for undergrads. The school will prepare students for graduate studies, the public service and for agencies like the Bank of Canada and the United Nations, he said.
Mulroney, who had been approached by the university to fundraise, had originally set out only to find $40 million, split evenly between government and private donors.
In the end, most of the government money came from Ottawa — $30 million from the Trudeau government — while another $5 million came from the Nova Scotia government.
The official sod turning for Mulroney Hall featured the spectacle of provincial and federal Liberals touting the potential of an institute named for a Progressive Conservative prime minister.
"I look forward to walking through Mulroney Hall and getting an opportunity to meet the StFX students who study there. They will be the leaders of tomorrow," said Nova Scotia Labour and Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousoulis.
The money will be split evenly between Mulroney Hall and a larger project known as Xaverian Commons, which Mulroney likened to Harvard Yard.
It was billed as the "most transformational" project in the history of the small university.
"It will be the equivalent of Harvard Yard, with some older buildings taken out, some new ones put in, and work done to beautify the area," he said.
— By Rob Roberts in Halifax