Brian Mulroney had a close and highly productive relationship with the Canadian foreign service ranging across issues as diverse as food aid for Ethiopia to helping dismantle apartheid in South Africa and, most importantly, substantially improving relations with the United States.

I was one of the first public service officials to meet the Prime Minister soon after he formed his government in September 1984. One of his top priorities was to visit Washington and meet President Reagan as the first step to refurbish this key relationship. As Assistant Deputy Minister for United States Affairs at that time, I managed the preparation of the briefing book and then accompanied Mr. Mulroney, along with others, on the visit.

In the Spring of 1985, President Reagan reciprocated with a visit to Quebec City for the “Shamrock Summit” and the launch of Free Trade negotiations (the FTA). This was an arduous and courageous undertaking that involved officials from several departments – including notably External Affairs – like Michael Hart, Bill Dymond and Colin Robertson, under the aegis of the Trade Negotiations Office (TNO). The imp-ressive economic results of the FTA speak for themselves, but it was a “near run” thing on which success was far from certain. It was Mr. Mulroney’s boldest and most consequential initiative.

In 1986, I went with the Prime Minister on official visits to China, Japan, and Korea. On each occasion, he met Embassy officials and thanked them for their service to Canada. 

During the Bush Sr. presidency, Canada secured an Acid Rain Accord, one involving key officials from the department, together with those from Environment Canada and members of our Embassy in Washington, like Ross and Laurette Glasgow.

Mr. Mulroney had a keen and sharp interest in foreign affairs. He was a “newsaholic”, read prodigiously and had an impressive network of foreign contacts who he consulted and who consulted him on a regular basis.

Although they had earlier been political rivals, Mr. Mulroney also had a close, collaborative relationship with his Secretary of State for External Affairs, Joe Clark, and together they worked tirelessly on major issues of the day, ably supported by foreign service officials. 

It was an epochal period, not only were there substantial achievements on bilateral relations with the U.S. but major global events – specifically, the first Gulf War, the unification of Germany and the dismantling of the Soviet Union. Canada was relevant on all of these and more, as never before or since, and I am sure that the officials directly involved take pride in their contributions.

Mr. Mulroney was well served by many in the department. Just to cite a few:

  • I know he developed a particularly high regard for the advice and judgment provided by Under Secretary Si Taylor.
  • Don Campbell provided yeoman’s service on the FTA and went on to serve as Deputy Minister of International Trade and later Deputy Foreign Minister.
  • Len Edwards and his team organized the G7 Summit in Toronto in June, 1988 and did a first-class job. He too went on to serve as Deputy Minister of International Trade and then Deputy Foreign Minister.
  • John Weekes impressively led the NAFTA negotiations to a highly successful result.
  • When I served as the Prime Minister’s Personal Representative or “sherpa” for the G7 summits in London (1990), Houston (1991) and Munich (1992), I was diligently supported by Phillip Somerville, as well as by my Finance sous-sherpa, David Dodge.


There are many more I could cite and still others who undoubtedly have lasting memories of their own. 

Perhaps the greatest tribute Mr. Mulroney gave to External Affairs was the number of foreign service officers recruited by him for his office (the PMO). I was privileged to become his Chief of Staff in February, 1987 and brought with me Brian Hambleton and later Jim Wright – two of the department’s very best. 

Marc Lortie joined with me as Press Officer and Spokesman in the PMO deftly managing the daily rough and tumble of Canadian politics. On one occasion, when journalist Stevie Cameron asked him how many Gucci shoes the Prime Minister had in his closet, Marc came to me and wondered “What are we doing here?” “Tell her,” I suggested “that journalists have no place in the P.M.’s closet”. 

Bob Grauer came to the PMO a bit later. He joined the Prime Minister on a visit to Winnipeg and ventured into a non-friendly political environment. Hecklers surrounded the motorcade using placards to hammer the hood and roof of the Prime Minister’s limo. 

“Smile Bob,” the P.M. counselled. 

“Are you kidding,” replied Grauer. “We might get killed here.” 

“No,” said the Prime Minister. “Just smile. That really cheeses them off,” only he did not use “cheese” as his verb.

Mr. Mulroney was a man of many parts, one being a biting sense of humour when the occasion merited. 

As Prime Minister, he preferred crisp communications and direct action. He recognized that both were then stocks in trade for foreign service personnel. It was a non-woke universe – a time when ability, judgment and results counted.

He was also a man with a proud record of distinctive achievements in global affairs and I know firsthand that he was appreciative of the able and consistent support he received from departmental officials in meeting those challenges. 

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