CBC: The Secret Mulroney Tapes

Canadians all thought the same thing when Peter C. Newman launched his book about the clandestine tapes that he made over the years in private discussions with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

We could all agree that Newman’s perfidious actions would be considered vile no matter one’s sentiments of the last elected Conservative Prime Minister.

Similarly, most of us shook our heads when the CBC announced their straight-to-prime-time-pre-election knock-off of the same.

Yet, as a consumer of politics (a junkie perhaps), I decided to sit down for a couple of hours with Peter C and the CBC as they took shots at Brian Mulroney.

However, as the documentary unfolded I become more and more intrigued. The CBC certainly framed Newman’s content upon Mulroney’s back-to-back majorities but at times the documentary became inquisitive of Newman’s motives and even rightly alleged that Newman had betrayed his old friend.

This was certainly the assessment of a non-political friend who was watching as well. “This documentary is making me feel sympathy for Mulroney. Newman betrayed Mulroney. His comments aren’t shocking. Everyone has opinions, so what?” Indeed, just because someone says Fuddle-duddle, does it greenlight Canadians to go negative?

Beyond the ominous background music juxtaposed with still frames of Mulroney and overexposed B&W headlines critical of the Conservatives, I was fascinated by what I was watching. Not often do we have a chance to fill in the blanks in the historical record, but Peter C. Newman, despite his treachery, has offered Canadians a first-hand point of view on history.

While Newman ultimately betrayed his old friend, I would argue that he also did him a favour as well. By releasing private conversations for public consumption he has, in essence, presented Brian Mulroney’s account of his own record, in the former Prime Minister’s own words. The conversations were private and were never meant for public performance. Since the chats were between two close friends, not many would argue that the discussions weren’t frank and honest.

Mulroney’s perceptions on a variety of topics from the Tuna “crisis” (in which he questions the over-reaction of the Opposition and the press – he notes that no one even became ill) to Meech lake and Charlottetown gave Canadians an unspun opinion.

The private and friendly conversations between the former PM and Newman were well above the rhetoric and spin reserved for the ‘hated’ Press Gallery; the conversations were genuine.

We learn for example that Mulroney believed that Meech Lake was the best deal ever offered and that Trudeau and Liberal Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells ultimately screwed the deal for personal partisan posturing. Mulroney confided in Newman that he believed that if Meech had gone through without Liberal interference, the Quebec sovereignty issue would have ultimately been averted.

Charlottetown, according to Mulroney, was another betrayal by Wells, Chretien and by Bouchard. History may now judge that it wasn’t a lack of Mulroney’s ideological capability that caused the constitutional crisis; the Quebec sovereignty crisis was instead rooted in Liberal political posturing and in betrayal.

Ego is certainly not in short supply to those who desire Canada’s top job. It is interesting to note that it was that of Mulroney that drove him to bring Quebec into the constitution and to unite Canada at great electoral detriment to the Conservatives, while it was the ego of Chretien that attempted to manage the Quebec crisis (that he helped precipitate) to great financial benefit to the Liberals.

While historically fascinating, the CBC still released a documentary which was personally embarrassing to Conservative PM Brian Mulroney a week before a national election campaign. Consider that our national broadcaster has produced two rosy “rock-star” mini-series portrayals of Trudeau. This documentary was also produced with a remarkable turnaround time since Newman announced his book a few short months ago.

Consider this in the context of recent events. The most significant scandal in Canadian history has now been unfolding for a couple of years. The Sponsorship scandal has provided a gripping story of corruption, betrayal and criminality. I can’t wait to see the CBC’s documentary.