Revisionist history

Celebration of Brian Mulroney’s ‘public service’ is indecent and insulting

Against the corporate media’s amnesia and revisionism
Photo: Canada 2020

He flaunts it still.

There he was last week, Brian Mulroney, in all his self-congratulatory glory, flaunting his wealth, privilege, and braggadocio at the unveiling ceremony of something called the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

Your ad here
Don't like ads?
Automated ads help us pay our journalists, servers, and team. Support us by becoming a member today to hide all automated ads:
Become a member

Reportedly, the former prime minister has spent the last four years raising money to cover the $55 million price tag — including ponying up $1 million from his own, no doubt, brimming coffers — to fashion a monument to his signature-sized ego, narcissism, and hubris. My, what a surprise.

The man who glued a prime ministerial seal (in lieu of a presidential one) onto podiums during press conferences, has now erected what amounts to a minor league version of a presidential library as a permanent ode to himself, disguised as an act of charity for budding political science students.

The scholars and undergrads who will inhabit the institute and commemorative hall will also be reminded constantly, of course, of whose house they’re studying in since the place will be littered apparently with flattering “memorabilia” of their patron’s time as prime minister.

You can be sure that revisionist tour down memory lane won’t include any framed bits of Mulroney’s seedier side — to put it charitably.

Cash-stuffed envelopes

Karlheinz Schreiber and his money won’t merit a display and neither, I suspect, will Justice Jeffrey Oliphant’s damning findings about Mulroney’s furtive relationship with the convicted tax evader and arms dealer and, more importantly, with oodles of his money.

Let’s revisit that profitable bromance because it appears the earnest women and men who run St. Francis Xavier University have forgotten about it or are conveniently suffering from a Board of Governors-wide bout of amnesia.

To refresh their memories, here’s how Oliphant described Mulroney’s “dealings” with Schreiber:

The conduct exhibited by Mr. Mulroney in accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from Mr. Schreiber on three separate occasions, failing to record the fact of the cash payments, failing to deposit the cash into a bank or other financial institution, and failing to disclose the fact of the cash payments when given the opportunity to do so goes a long way, in my view, to supporting my position that the financial dealings between Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Mulroney were inappropriate.

Schreiber handed those cash-stuffed envelopes to Mulroney at hotels in Montreal and New York only months after the charming chin from Baie Comeau resigned as prime minister in June 1993. In all, Mulroney pocketed — literally — between $225,000 to $300,000 and he didn’t declare a cent of it. (Mysteriously, Mulroney escaped Schreiber’s fate in the courts and prison.)

Mulroney tried and failed, pitifully, to explain away his cash-and-dash dates with Schreiber as an oh-so-regrettable “error of judgment.”

Still, Oliphant wasn’t through administering the rod to Mulroney. Using diplomatic language, he told the guilty schoolboy turned ex prime minister that, in effect, he didn’t believe any of his baritone blarney about why he took all that dough, why he didn’t tell federal lawyers and the taxman about all that dough, why he hid all that dough, and what he did precisely to earn all that dough.

On this score, Oliphant variously wrote: “must view with skepticism Mr. Mulroney’s claim,” “having a considerable problem with that explanation,” and “patently absurd.”

Mulroney tried and failed, pitifully, to explain away his cash-and-dash dates with Schreiber as an oh-so-regrettable “error of judgment.” To paraphrase Oliphant, his June 2010 official reply to that limp, exculpatory nonsense was: Ah, no, prime minister, your secret, money-laced tête-à-têtes with an arms dealer are a big, humiliating ethical “breach” or stain — take your pick.

Mulroney revisionism from corporate media

I suppose Mulroney and St. Francis Xavier University want us to believe that 2010 is ancient history and that we petty, amateur historians should all just let bygones be bygones.

The supplicant “it’s time to move on” crowd inside and outside the CBC were certainly busy last week lecturing the grudge-holding, vindictive crowd — that’s you and me — on TV, Twitter and in print about all of Mulroney’s other, allegedly redeeming qualities.

“The Brian Mulroney Institute of Government sees the ex-PM not only birthing the future but reclaiming the past — reminding Canadians that, for all the vanity, blarney and bluster, he was and is a man of social conscience, commitment and public service,” one of the usual neocon apologists working at one of the usual neocon newspapers wrote, lovingly.

“Reclaiming the past,” eh? “A man of social conscience, commitment and public service,” eh?

Well, I wonder if the Mulroney fan boy, and, in particular, St. Francis Xavier University care to remember, let alone “reclaim,” what happened in Pictou County, Nova Scotia on May 9, 1992?

Remembering the Westray mine disaster

I remember. I was at home when I heard the late Knowlton Nash break into an episode of Star Trek that Saturday morning with a news bulletin, announcing that the Westray coal mine had blown up and that 26 men were trapped inside.

Brian Mulroney championed the Westray mine.

I remember because, months earlier, I had worked on a CBC documentary that exposed the cynical, myopic political and financial wheeling and dealing between Ottawa and Halifax that ultimately led to the creation of a private mine financed largely with public money to pull “black gold” out of a notoriously dangerous coal seam.

Brian Mulroney championed the Westray mine. He not only championed it, he also once, briefly, held the federal seat where the mine sat. And, when Mulroney became prime minister, his government overruled federal bureaucrats who opposed subsidizing the mine and handed an $85 million loan guarantee and an interest grant of $9 million to the Toronto-based mining company that operated Westray.

Those 26 miners perished. They died because the mine owner put the pursuit of profit ahead of the safety of the Nova Scotians who braved working in that treacherous mine to provide for their families.

They died because so-called “safety inspectors” repeatedly did nothing even after being confronted time and again with overwhelming evidence that the mine was a coal-dust laden tinder box with a hair-trigger fuse.

Unlike Mulroney’s fan boys and girls and St. Francis Xavier University, I later met and spoke with many of the miners who tried in vain to raise the alarm and to the widows of the 26 miners who were killed — 11 of whom remain entombed deep inside the bowels of the Westray mine to this day.

No one was ever held to account for the preventable deaths of those men and the suffering and loss their families continue to endure.

Instead, one of the principle architects of the Westray mine was feted and honoured last week as an elder statesman by a university that is less than an hour’s drive from Pictou County.

“A man of social conscience, commitment and public service.” I, for one, don’t think so.

You might also be interested in...
Feeling inspired by the climate strikes? Now let’s elect real climate champions
Cameron Fenton
September 27, 2019
Voting in dangerous times: Your comprehensive guide to the climate crisis and the federal election
Aaron Saad
October 14, 2019