Reflections on the 1984 Conservative Renaissance

For those Tories with a sense of history, today is special. Today is the 30th anniversary of the election that brought Brian Mulroney and the then-Progressive Conservatives to a majority government, and that handed the federal Liberals under John Turner their first major defeat of the 20th century.

Mark Kennedy has a piece on Brian Mulroney’s reflections on his achievement, and Warren Kinsella is commemorating it as well. Naturally Mr. Kinsella would like to draw a parallel between this achievement and the upcoming 2015 election, casting the Tories in the then-Liberal role, but upon reflection it’s not quite as easy as you might think. Consider this:

  • When Mr. Turner called the 1984 election, he was not in fact a member of Parliament. In fact, he’d only been sworn in as Prime Minister ten days before, and had only become Liberal party leader barely two weeks before that. When you consider that Mr. Turner had been out of active politics since 1975, you have to concede this: Mr. Turner was the most unprepared leader the federal Liberals had ever had.
  • He demonstrated his unpreparedness through the 1984 campaign, first failing to defend the admittedly indefensible number of patronage appointments that his predecessor had asked him to make, and then publicly demonstrating inappropriate behaviour towards a couple of the party’s female senior executives. (There may have been a time, during perhaps the Mad Men era, when patting the derriêre of a businesswoman was considered a friendly gesture, but that time was most certainly not 1984.)
  • Apart from the interruption of Joe Clark’s 1979 government, the Liberals under Pierre Trudeau had been in power for approximately 15 years. During that time, the government had alienated a good portion of the voters over policies like the National Energy Program, negotiations over the Constitution, reorganizations of the Canadian Forces, and so on. Perhaps it’s unfair to say that Mr. Turner suffered for the “sins” of Mr. Trudeau, but there’s still some truth in that sentiment.

It should be pointed out that Mr. Turner did, in fact, make up for his lack of preparedness. Four years later he was able to bring the party back to a credible standing in the House, helping to turn the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement into a viable campaign issue.

It should also be remembered that, particularly during the period after the 1988 election, Mr. Mulroney’s government was actually polling at lower numbers than what Stephen Harper’s Tories are doing today. And today Mr. Mulroney is being remembered by both his allies and his then-critics as a great statesman, mainly for his stand on apartheid and his work on free trade. Not a bad legacy, eh?

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About phantomobserver

I'm a professional librarian currently working in Ottawa, Ontario.
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7 Responses to Reflections on the 1984 Conservative Renaissance

  1. Nathan B. says:

    Sorry about the typo; the word in question should be “truly.”

  2. Nathan B. says:

    Interesting thoughts.

    Victor, you probably noticed the pieces up in the National Post and the Globe and Mail–pieces in which Mulroney criticized Harper rather severely on matters of substantial import. In retrospect, I think that notwithstanding his mistakes, Mulroney was a truyly great Prime Minister. Stephen Harper could learn much from him, and today’s Tories are a mean-spirited, visionless, juvenile bunch compared with Mulroney’s Tories. The fact that Mulroney could be “the greenest Prime Minister” Canada has ever had speaks much for his legacy. Harper’s legacy, on the other hand, could well be the dirtiest PM ever.

  3. Frank, what were the interest rates during the Eighties?
    I think you know the answer.
    Also, Harper had the Coalition put a gun to his head and demand that he run deficits.
    Before that he was pursuing a fifty-fifty strategy of debt reduction and tax cuts.

  4. Eric Doll says:

    Mulroney’s great contribution to Canada was the Reform Party which morphed into The CPC. Liberal lite was no longer acceptable to the conservative majority.

  5. TJ says:

    Mulroney destroyed the PC Part of Canada. The only commemoration his time in power deserves is a mourning for the lost years of conservatism in Canada.

  6. BC Bloser says:

    The West wanted in after Mulroney. The Reformers (and Peter McKay) and the BQ destroyed the PC Party because of Mulroney’s incompetence.

  7. Frank says:

    Mulroney ran the largest deficits in Canadian history, until Harper. What is it about “fiscal conservatives” that they overspend so much?

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