Master of Persuasion: Brian Mulroney’s Global Legacy by Fen Osler Hampson

Mulroney’s Foreign Policy

Fen Osler Hampson

Master of Persuasion: Brian Mulroney’s Global Legacy. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 2018.

Review by John Baird

As Fen Hampson writes in Master of Persuasion, Brian Mulroney was a transformative leader who profoundly altered the Canadian political and economic landscape.

In his new book, Hampson sets out to put Mulroney’s impressive foreign policy record in a broader context. The lessons learned from his near-decade in power on the international stage are quite relevant today for political leaders and our country.

Foreign policy is about two things: promoting our values and promoting our interests around the world. Chiefly, the values of freedom and pluralism and our economic and security interests. In examining the Conservative prime minister’s influence on global events, Hampson highlights the “extent to which Brian Mulroney’s careful cultivation of relationships with key foreign leaders allowed him to play a significant role in the most momentous world issues of his time.”

Mulroney’s “passion, energy, intensity, discipline, and laser-like focus” were central to that success, Hampson writes.

Hampson chronicles Mulroney’s global leadership from the response to the famine in Ethiopia, to the moral struggle against apartheid in South Africa, his impressive record of leadership on the environment, and more. Mulroney’s impact was significant on a wide range of international issues.

Hampson points out that even Nelson Mandela himself had strong words of praise and deep respect for Mulroney personally and his government’s strong moral leadership.

The international agreement on biodiversity, the Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion, and the concrete action to tackle acid rain with the United States are all meaningful and important achievements. These successes had Mulroney’s fingerprints all over them. While he did not get much political credit at the time, Mulroney is widely considered the most effective Canadian prime minister when it came to the environment. Not too bad for a free market, capitalist conservative.

Most relevant for contemporary actors in foreign policy today are the lessons that can be learned from managing our most important relationship with our powerful neighbour to the south. It starts at the leadership level. If the personal relationship between the president of the United States and the Canadian prime minister goes well, the relationships between the two countries and their administrations generally go well.

Hampson explains how Mulroney rejected and disposed of the historic anti-American sentiment in much of Canadian elite thinking. By 1984, the Canada-U.S. relationship had deteriorated considerably. The anti-American bent of some officials at the Department of External Affairs did not help. Our 18th prime minister declared: “Canadians were now mature enough as a nation and confident enough in ourselves to recognize and take pride in our amicable relationship with a neighbour as powerful as the United States.”

With the United States, Mulroney could have his cake and eat it, too. Despite the deep personal affection between Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan, our prime minister was never hesitant or timid to publicly split with the U.S. administration on issues ranging from apartheid to the environment.

Mulroney also demonstrated the importance for Canada to work both sides of Pennsylvania Ave. Mulroney cultivated relationships among the congressional leadership, which was a constant source of agitation in the bilateral relationship.

Because of the trust, confidence and respect he built with two successive American presidents, Mulroney was able to secure access to the largest market for goods and services on the planet. The great debate on free trade with the United States in the late 1980’s was a turning point for our country. Because of that, Canadians embrace globalization and see trade as central to our economic well-being and future prosperity. This is now a notably absent sentiment in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Neither the Canada-European trade deal nor the announcement of the successful conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership two weeks before Election Day in 2015 caused a ripple in Canadian public opinion. We had that debate a generation ago. Canadians had embraced globalization due to the work of the Mulroney government.

Margaret Thatcher was once asked what her greatest achievement was. Her response after thoughtful consideration: “Tony Blair.” So too, one of Mulroney’s greatest achievements may very well be the ardent and enthusiastic support for NAFTA and free trade in general from the Liberal Party of Canada under the current government.

Reaching out to Mulroney and listening to his thoughtful advice and counsel and has been central to the current government’s constructive approach in dealing with the challenge that is Donald Trump.

Hampson’s book underlines the critical importance of leadership. Mulroney led, and Canada was on the right side of history because of that leadership.

Former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is now Senior Business Adviser to Bennett Jones based in their Toronto office.