Canadian statesman; leader of the Progressive Conservative Party (1983–93) and prime minister (1984–93).
Born to Irish immigrants in Baie Corneau, Quebec, Mulroney grew up fluently bilingual (in English and French). Educated at St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and trained as a lawyer at Laval University, Quebec, he became president of a US-owned mineral corporation and an acknowledged expert on labour disputes and US-Canadian economic relations. Active in conservative politics from the 1970s, Mulroney failed to wrest the party leadership of the Progressive Conservatives from Joe Clark in 1976; however, he finally succeeded him in 1983 and – as a result of an electoral landslide the following year – became prime minister.
Mulroney's decade in office was marked by ultimately disappointing attempts to resolve long-standing constitutional difficulties. The 1987 Meech Lake Accord regarding federal-provincial disputes failed to fulfil its promise, while the 1992 Charlottestown Accord, which proposed to recognize Quebec as ‘a distinct society’, was decisively defeated in a national referendum. However, Mulroney's ‘Shamrock Summit’ with US President Reagan resulted in a free trade agreement that, with the incorporation of Mexico, created the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA). Hailed by its supporters as a visionary act of statesmanship, it was nevertheless regarded by Canadian sceptics as another sell-out to US corporate interests, with which Mulroney had long been associated. Mulroney's attempts to reduce state pensions proved predictably unpopular; compounded with a scandal over patronage, it brought him the lowest popularity rating ever recorded for a Canadian prime minister. In 1993 Mulroney was replaced by Kim Campbell (1947– ), who served as Canada's first woman premier until the devastating defeat of the Conservatives in elections later that year.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).