House of Commons silent, Parliament Hill flag at half-mast after death of Mulroney

Flag lowered for Mulroney

Members of Parliament are absent from the House of Commons as Canadians mourn the death of former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

The flag atop the Peace Tower is flying at half-mast in tribute to the Progressive Conservative titan who died Thursday at 84.

Tributes to Mulroney and his substantial political and personal legacy are sure to dominate when the sitting resumes March 18.

A family spokesman says Mulroney died surrounded by his family in a Palm Beach hospital, where he'd been since a recent fall.

News of his death prompted a flood of respect and remembrance, both in political circles and beyond.

Erin O'Toole, a former Conservative MP and party leader, is among the many people who counted Mulroney as a close friend and mentor who "would always be there, in thick and thin."

"It's a sign of character that you don't see much in politics," O'Toole said in an interview.

"There'll be a lot of people there when the skies are sunny, but on a cloudy day, he would call when a lot of others wouldn't."

The House of Commons was in the throes of debating legislation Thursday when Conservative MP John Nater rose to break the news.

"It is obviously with great regret that this House has learned of the passing of this country's 18th prime minister," Nater said before MPs agreed to suspend proceedings.

Mulroney, a charismatic and compelling leader with convictions as deep as his trademark languid baritone, led the country as the leader of the Progressive Conservatives from 1984 until 1993.

He reinvented cross-border relations thanks to a close friendship with then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan, a relationship that helped usher in the era of continental free trade and bilateral environmental treaties.

For many, Mulroney will always be the prime minister who introduced the Goods and Services Tax — a bold and necessary move, he insisted, but one that came with lasting political damage.

He had no fear of trying "controversial things," said former prime minister Jean Chrétien, including twice trying unsuccessfully to amend the Constitution with the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords.

"In politics, opposition is opposition," Chrétien said. "It's like playing hockey. You can fight on the ice and have a beer together after that. And we had a lot of things in common."

Despite being a fierce partisan fighter, Mulroney always had Canada's best interest at heart, said O'Toole — an example he said he tried to follow as Conservative leader, including when COVID-19 was on the march.

"I tried to take that approach in the pandemic," O'Toole said, recalling some of his cross-partisan efforts at the time.

"Trying to be, you know, a bridge builder, and looking at the whole nation, not just a small group of it or your partisan supporters," he said.

"He always said, put the long-term well-being of the country at the forefront of everything you do."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described Mulroney as a vital source of advice and sage counsel while the federal Liberal government was locked in difficult negotiations with the U.S. and Mexico over NAFTA.

"He shaped our past, but he shapes our present — and he will impact our future as well," Trudeau said. "There are many, many people across the country tonight who are reeling and feeling a deep absence."

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre shared a photo of himself with Mulroney, thanking him for his "candid advice and generous mentorship."


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