Former prime minister Brian Mulroney said that attending the funeral of former U.S. president George H.W. Bush was “bittersweet” and that Canada has “lost a big friend.”
Mulroney eulogized his close friend and confidant during a funeral service at Washington’s National Cathedral on Wednesday. He told CTV’s Power Play that while the loss of the 41st president made him “sad,” he was certain that Bush was happy to be reunited with his late wife, Barbara, who died in April, and their daughter Robin, who died from leukemia in 1953 when she was three years old.
“When George was president of the United States, big things happened for Canada and with Canada,” Mulroney said, adding, “I hope this can be recaptured.”
In his emotional eulogy, the former prime minister hailed many of his old friend’s domestic accomplishments, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. But he also drew attention to a number of the initiatives that the pair worked on together, including the 1991 acid-rain accord and NAFTA, which Mulroney said helped to usher in “the largest and richest free-trade area in the history of the world.”
He acknowledged that the “relationship of trust” that has traditionally characterized the U.S.-Canada relationship has been “damaged” recently, given the acrimonious renegotiation of NAFTA and President Donald Trump’s levying of tariffs on Canada’s steel and aluminum exports.
“I was privileged,” said Mulroney, whose tenure as prime minister overlapped with the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, Bush and Bill Clinton. “It was much easier for me than it is for the prime minister today.”
He cited an instance in the summer of 1990, when he told Bush at his family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, that while Canada agreed with his plans to go to war in the Middle East to expel Iraq from Kuwait, the country would not support the mission unless the United States sought a resolution authorizing the use of force from the United Nations Security Council.
“I said, ‘Canada is not a superpower and we work multilaterally and the UN is a major part of that puzzle for us,’” Mulroney recounted.
Instead of being offended, Bush agreed and told his administration to seek UN approval.
“He took criticism, he took advice and he knew how to act on it and to act on it in Canada’s favour,” Mulroney said.
He added that he remains hopeful that Canada-U.S. ties can “be revived and even improved upon.”
The trick is for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to use the “interpersonal skills” with which he has been “gifted” in his dealings with Washington, Mulroney said.
“I’m not a pessimist about it, but I’m a realist,” Mulroney said. “I know that if you want to get big things done in the world, you want to have the U.S. president in your camp.”
He also dismissed criticisms of Trudeau for signing the new Canada-United-States-Mexico Agreement without first getting the steel and aluminum tariffs lifted.
“I think that of course he did the right thing by signing it,” Mulroney said of Trudeau. “And I can bet you a dollar to a doughnut that those sanctions are going to go away.”
Mulroney also remembered Bush as a good father and a close friend.
In an interview with CTV’s Omar Sachedina on CTV National News, Mulroney said he had many fond memories of fishing with Bush across Canada, and in the Northwest Territories in particular, as well as of nearly four decades of visiting Kennebunkport with his family.
During one particular visit, Mulroney recalled watching Bush take his son Mark Mulroney out onto the rocks when the tide had gone out.
When Mark came back inside, his father asked him “what the hell did you say to President Bush to get him to take you out there on the rocks” and learned that Mark was curious about how the tides come in and why they go out.
“So the President of the United States walks off the porch with a nine-year-old kid…I mean are you kidding me?” said Mulroney, who added that this was evidence of Bush’s “affection for his children and for any child that comes into his life.”