By Adam Daifallah (2004-05 Sauvé Scholar)

The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney, Canada’s 18th Prime Minister (1984-1993), spoke at Jeanne Sauvé House on September 21, 2011 to a room of current and former Sauvé scholars, McGill students and invited friends of the Foundation.

The theme of Mr. Mulroney’s speech was leadership, and he spoke not only of his own time in office but of other world leaders who had made difficult decisions in office that may not have been popular when implemented but which were vindicated with the passage of time.

Mr. Mulroney spoke little of his own specific accomplishments, choosing instead to focus on the challenges of getting big things done. He said there are two kinds of leaders: transactional and transformational. As an example, he spoke of the difficulty of getting the U.S. to agree to certain Canadian demands during the Canada-US Free Trade negotiations. In the end, the deal got done because people at the very highest level (read: Mulroney himself) applied immense pressure on American officials. Without his direct intervention, negotiators would have remained lost fighting over small, bureaucratic details. At one point, Mr. Mulroney told James Baker, then US secretary of state: “If you don’t get this deal done, I’m calling President Reagan and asking him why the US can have an arms deal with its worst enemy, the Soviet Union, and can’t get a free trade deal with its best friend, Canada.” About 20 minutes later, the deal was done!

The question and answer period that followed Mr. Mulroney’s speech was very lively, with most questions being asked by current Sauvé Scholars. One question that elicited a particularly feisty response dealt with Mr. Mulroney’s unsuccessful attempts to have Quebec consent formally to the Canadian constitution. Mr. Mulroney made a passionate defence of his work in this area, and without naming him explicitly, put some blame on former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau for the failure of the Meech Lake Accord.

Other questions addressed his strong opposition to apartheid, his record as the “greenest” Prime Minister in Canadian history, and his views on women and leadership.

It was a lovely evening appreciated by all who attended.