STU community reflects on Brian Mulroney’s impact

Still of Canadas' Ex-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who was also a St. Thomas University Alumna. (Submitted: Canadian Heritage)

On Feb. 29, former Conservative Prime Minister and St. Thomas University alum Brian Mulroney passed at the age of 84.

As an alum, Mulroney visited STU several times, whether it was to speak at graduation or to pop in to surprise classes in the building named after him. With nearly a month after his passing gone by, staff and students reflected on Mulroney’s impact on both STU and the political sphere. 

“What was amazing about him was that he wanted to talk about the future. He didn’t talk about the past,” said former associate vice-president communications Jeffrey Carleton. “He was very much a believer that when it comes time to pass the torch, one of the ways you could do it was through education and opportunity,”

When Carleton heard of the former prime minister’s passing, he said his first reaction was sadness. 

“It was a very sad and melancholy moment,” he said. “I also felt sad that he wouldn’t be back at St. Thomas again, that students wouldn’t have a chance to experience his perspective again.”

Carleton met Mulroney numerous times during his time at STU and he said “each one of them was memorable.”

Most memorable for Carleton was his encounter with Mulroney before giving a speech at STU in November of 2012. That same week, former Prime Minister Paul Martin had also given a speech. Carleton and STU professor Tom Bateman escorted him to the building and Mulroney asked them if there was anything he should know.

“I said ‘well, Mr. Mulroney, two days ago former Prime Minister Paul Martin was here speaking to students.’ He said ‘how did he do?’ I said ‘he did very well.’ And Mr. Mulroney said ‘watch me.’”

“He wanted to give students a fantastic experience, which he did,” said Carleton.

Mulroney is described by Carleton as being a magnet for students. He accredits this to his desire to connect and understand everyone he met, which happened often.

“He was always a little bit late. And the reason that he was late was because everybody wanted to stop and talk to him,” he said.

At one of Mulroney’s last visits to STU in 2018, Carleton recalled seeing him at the dinner for the honorary degree recipients the night before convocation. With nearly 200 people spread out across 20 tables, Carleton said the former prime minister talked to everyone personally. 

“I don’t think he ate. He went around every table and talked to everybody at every table and I’ve never seen that before.”

For Carleton, Mulroney’s legacy at STU lives on, particularly through his contribution of the Irene Mulroney entrance scholarship, valued at $2000. 

However, for some students, Mulroney’s legacy is not all positive. For fourth-year history and political science student Tanner Augustine, Mulroney’s political legacy remains a question mark.

He recalled his reaction to hearing about the former prime minister’s death, which he found out about through Apple News while laying in his bed. 

“My reaction was, ‘oh, I thought he was already dead.’”

“He did have a complicated relationship with Indigenous people,” said Augustine, current Chair of STU Reconciliation. “We kind of were safer … under him, only because he was too busy doing other things.”

While Augustine acknowledged his landslide victory in 1984, winning the most amount of seats in Canadian history at 211, he also noted his indifference to Indigenous issues such as the Oka Crisis in 1990.

In Oka, Quebec in 1990, Indigenous people of the Mohawk community set up a barricade to protest the expansion of a golf course that would encroach upon an Indigenous burial site. The protest was met with police-force and lasted 78 days, resulting in two casualties.

“”[Mulroney] didn’t really have a strong reaction to it. If he did, it was very minor,” said Augustine. “He could have done literally anything to resolve this issue.”

“A positive I will say about him is that he did end the Conservative Party,” he said, referencing the landslide loss by the conservatives in 1993 after Mulroney’s term, where they received a mere two seats.

Despite Augustine’s criticisms of the STU alum’s politics, he offered his sympathies to Mulroney’s family.

“It is tragic for his family that he died, but no tears are coming from my eyes.”