Mulroney Era Begins in Canada Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

When Brian Mulroney, leader of Canada’s Progressive Conservative Party, assumed the office of prime minister, three decades of Liberal Party control of the Canadian government came to an end.

Summary of Event

The landslide election victory of the Progressive Conservative Party (PCP) on September 4, 1984, ended decades of political dominance by Canada’s Liberal Party. The election victory of PCP leader Brian Mulroney astounded political forecasters. The final count gave the Progressive Conservatives 211 of 282 seats in Canada’s House of Commons. Stunned Liberals had elected only 40 members to Commons, and John Edward Broadbent’s New Democratic Party won only 30 seats. The PCP won almost 50 percent of the national vote, compared to the Liberals’ 28 percent and the New Democratic Party’s 19 percent. Mulroney had spent much of the 1984 campaign talking about the need for better relations with the United States and stronger Canadian support for Western alliance policies. His conservative victory may be seen as a continuation of Western governments’ abandonment of liberal/socialist administrations for conservative ones, after the election of Margaret Thatcher Thatcher, Margaret in the United Kingdom (1978) and Ronald Reagan Reagan, Ronald in the United States (1980). Canada;government Prime ministers;Canada Elections;Canada [kw]Mulroney Era Begins in Canada (Sept. 14, 1984) [kw]Era Begins in Canada, Mulroney (Sept. 14, 1984) [kw]Canada, Mulroney Era Begins in (Sept. 14, 1984) Canada;government Prime ministers;Canada Elections;Canada [g]North America;Sept. 14, 1984: Mulroney Era Begins in Canada[05520] [g]Canada;Sept. 14, 1984: Mulroney Era Begins in Canada[05520] [c]Government and politics;Sept. 14, 1984: Mulroney Era Begins in Canada[05520] Mulroney, Brian Broadbent, John Edward Clark, Joe Trudeau, Pierre [p]Trudeau, Pierre;parliamentary elections Turner, John Napier

Mulroney was sworn in as Canada’s eighteenth prime minister on September 14, 1984. His rise to that office represented a dramatic success in politics for a man little known in Canadian circles until 1983. Mulroney’s election campaign stressed his humble beginnings in Baie Comeau, Quebec, where he was born March 20, 1939, to Irish parents. The Mulroneys were a devout Catholic family whose forebears had emigrated from Ireland during the potato famine in the 1840’s. Mulroney’s father worked in the Baie Comeau pulp mill during the day and worked at night as an electrician. The future prime minister’s parents scraped together enough money for Brian to attend a boarding school, believing that education was their son’s only way out of a tough blue-collar existence.

U.S. president George H. W. Bush walks with Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney at the White House.


English was spoken at home by the Mulroneys, but Brian learned the French spoken by Baie Comeau’s Quebecer majority. His bilingual ability served him well at St. Francis Xavier University, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science, and later at Dalhousie and Laval universities, at which he studied law. Brian Mulroney was the first anglophone student at Laval to take all of his courses in French.

Mulroney increasingly shifted toward the Progressive Conservative Party while in college because he found the Liberal Party closed to a son of the working classes. Throughout his academic career and later, while practicing law, Mulroney made extensive contacts within the Progressive Conservative Party. It was as a labor lawyer that Mulroney earned a reputation as a skillful negotiator and conciliator. He received a 1974 appointment to the three-member Cliche Commission, Cliche Commission which was authorized to investigate the destruction caused by workers at a hydroelectric dam on James Bay. The commission issued a lengthy report recommending major changes in labor relations and union practices in Quebec.

Mulroney’s work on the Cliche Commission gained him national prominence and led his colleagues to urge him to run for the leadership of the PCP in 1976. The attempt failed, and Mulroney accepted the position of executive vice president, and later president, of the Iron Ore Company Iron Ore Company of Canada of Canada, which he temporarily turned from an unprofitable company into a moneymaking operation. In 1983, economic reversals forced Iron Ore of Canada to scale back its mining operations. Resultant layoffs led to worker protests, but Mulroney won the workers’ favor by providing generous compensation packages. Mulroney’s actions gained the attention of the national Canadian press.

In January, 1983, PCP leader Joe Clark announced his intention to step down as chairman of the party and allow a party convention to select his replacement. Clark, the former prime minister, was taking a gamble, hoping to gain a renewed pledge of party support against the Liberal Party, whose popularity was plummeting in the national polls. However, Clark’s resignation gave Mulroney the opportunity to resign his corporate presidency and announce his candidacy for party leader without antagonizing the PCP leadership.

The Progressive Conservative Party’s June, 1983, convention offered conservatives a choice among former leader and prime minister Clark, newcomer Mulroney, and John Crosbie. Crosbie, John There were no backroom deals or power plays, but there were frequent refusals to alter allegiances. On the third ballot, Crosbie was eliminated because of his third-place finish and because he could not speak French. The PCP wanted to appeal to Quebecers. On the fourth and final ballot, Mulroney won 1,584 votes to Clark’s 1,325 votes. Mulroney’s election was attributed to his youth and vigor, his skillful organizational talents, his bilingualism, and the party’s desire to seek a winner and a future.

In a Nova Scotia by-election held on August 29, 1983, Mulroney won his first seat in the Canadian parliament with 18,882 votes to the Liberal Party’s 7,828 votes. Mulroney’s win signaled rising disenchantment among Canadians with both the Liberal Party and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. In 1984, Mulroney united the PCP’s ideological wings and established an election platform advocating support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance and a close relationship with the United States. Mulroney publicly lauded President Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada, was willing to let the United States test its cruise missiles in Canada, and advocated a balanced budget, spending cuts, and business incentives while continuing government support for social programs and publicly owned enterprises.

On July 1, Trudeau resigned and was replaced by an unelected prime minister, John Napier Turner. Trudeau hoped that his belated resignation would reinvigorate the Liberal Party under a new leader. In the resulting Turner-Mulroney campaign, Mulroney stressed that he was an agent of change, whereas the Liberals represented the past without any new ideas. Mulroney played the “Baie Comeau card,” presenting himself as a man of the people against Toronto and the establishment. Mulroney capitalized on Turner’s campaign mistakes of acknowledging billions of dollars in government waste and the appointment of wealthy Canadians to patronage positions in return for political contributions.

In a series of televised debates, Prime Minister Turner appeared ill at ease, rigid, and badly dressed. A well-dressed and poised Mulroney focused on the Quebecers, speaking in the French Quebec idiom and acknowledging Quebec’s nationalistic concerns. At the end of the three debates, Turner had lost his advantages of prime ministerial posturing and the perception that he was more competent than Mulroney to lead Canada. Throughout the campaign, the tarnished legacy of Trudeau continued to haunt Liberal Party fortunes. When Turner hired the legendary Keith Davey Davey, Keith after the debates to reinvent his campaign, Canadians became convinced that the Liberal Party had returned to old-style politics and manipulation.

Throughout the election campaign, Mulroney consistently displayed his ability to synthesize issues, understand personalities, and resolve disputes. Mulroney set the campaign agenda and appealed for support from Canada’s minorities and the Quebecers. His organizational skills and charisma, along with his U.S.-style election campaigning, gave the Progressive Conservative Party its first significant victory since the 1950’s. Mulroney’s stunning 1984 election upset was repeated in 1988.


The Mulroney years in Canada, 1984-1993, were an era of social revolution and near economic collapse. For many Canadians, the federal authority no longer offered peace, order, and good government, but instead aroused increasing hostility and controversy. As prime minister, Mulroney quickly established a strong rapport with U.S. presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Bush, George H. W. Mulroney signed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States and later the North American Free Trade Agreement North American Free Trade Agreement (1993) (NAFTA), which included Mexico. Canadian budgets were slashed; national industries were closed, downsized, or privatized. Oil prices were decontrolled, tougher regulations were imposed on financial institutions, and foreign investment was encouraged with the creation of the Foreign Investment Review. Mulroney led Canada to closer relations with the United States, boycotted South Africa until apartheid fell, and gave Canada a more international role in world affairs.

Mulroney’s accomplishments were overshadowed after the 1988 election, however, by the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax, which Canadians soon despised; the failure of the 1987 Meech Lake Accord Meech Lake Accord and the 1992 Charlottetown Accord, Charlottetown Accord which attempted to create a new status for Quebec; and the provincial rejection of further constitutional reforms. Increasing questions about Mulroney’s expensive habits and finances, charges of Progressive Conservative corruption, and provincial demands for more autonomy led to Mulroney’s resignation on February 24, 1993. The position of party leader for the Progressive Conservative Party, and the office of prime minister, went to Canada’s first woman prime minister, Kim Campbell, Campbell, Kim on June 13, but Campbell went down to an election defeat to the Liberal Party under Jean Chrétien Chrétien, Jean on October 25. In that election, the Progressive Conservative Party lost 152 of its 154 parliamentary seats.

In spite of the allegations made against him, Mulroney did ultimately succeed in drawing Canada irrevocably into a closer relationship with both the United States and Mexico and in making Canada an international player in foreign policy. He also made some progress with his serious effort to resolve the issue of Quebec’s continued association within Canada. Canada;government Prime ministers;Canada Elections;Canada

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cameron, Stevie. On the Take: Crime, Corruption, and Greed in the Mulroney Years. Toronto: MacFarlane Walter & Ross, 1994. Chronicles a multitude of corruption charges leveled against Mulroney after his departure from office.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hoy, Claire. Friends in High Places: Politics and Patronage in the Mulroney Government. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1987. No-holds-barred account of Mulroney’s government catalogs a long list of government scandals.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">MacDonald, L. Ian. Mulroney: The Making of the Prime Minister. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1984. Presents a detailed account of the years 1983 and 1984, when Mulroney gained the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party and won election to the prime ministership.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McMenemy, John. The Language of Canadian Politics: A Guide to Important Terms and Concepts. 3d ed. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2001. Collection of more than five hundred brief essays on a wide range of topics related to the Canadian system of government, Canadian political history, Canadian laws and legal history, and more.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murphy, Rae, Robert Chodos, and Nick Auf der Maur. Brian Mulroney: The Boy from Baie-Comeau. Toronto: James Lorimer, 1984. Well-written account of Mulroney’s life before becoming prime minister.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Newman, Peter C. The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister. Mississauga, Ont.: Random House Canada, 2005. Somewhat sensationalistic profile drawn from years of taped candid conversations with Mulroney and those close to him while he was prime minister.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sawatsky, John. Mulroney: The Politics of Ambition. Toronto: MacFarlane Walter & Ross, 1991. Political biography draws on hundreds of interviews conducted by the author, a seasoned Canadian investigative reporter. Examines the accuracy of corruption charges against Mulroney’s administration.

Clark Is Elected Canada’s Prime Minister

Canada’s Constitution Act

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Is Enacted

United States and Canada Issue a Joint Report on Acid Rain

Campbell Becomes Canada’s First Woman Prime Minister

Chrétien Takes Charge in Canada

Categories: History