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Clyde Wells remembers former Meech Lake sparring partner Brian Mulroney

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney leaves Parliament Hill Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney is dead at 84. His family announced late Thursday that the former Tory leader died peacefully, surrounded by loved ones. (Adrian Wyld/Canadain Press - image credit)
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney leaves Parliament Hill Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney is dead at 84. His family announced late Thursday that the former Tory leader died peacefully, surrounded by loved ones. (Adrian Wyld/Canadain Press - image credit)
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney leaves Parliament Hill Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney is dead at 84. His family announced late Thursday that the former Tory leader died peacefully, surrounded by loved ones.
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney leaves Parliament Hill Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney is dead at 84. His family announced late Thursday that the former Tory leader died peacefully, surrounded by loved ones.

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney is dead at 84. His family announced late Thursday that the former Tory leader died peacefully, surrounded by loved ones. (Adrian Wyld/Canadain Press)

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Clyde Wells — who earned the enmity of the late former prime minister Brian Mulroney for being the face of provincial opposition to the Meech Lake Accord — is praising his former foe for being a world leader and getting free trade right.

Mulroney, who died Thursday at the age of 84, left behind a long-lasting legacy in the province, particularly when it came to setting the groundwork for N.L.'s offshore oil industry when he signed the Atlantic Accord in 1985.

Wells said he met Mulroney when they were first-year law students at Dalhousie University. Years later, the former classmates clashed as prime minister and premier over the accord, a series of proposed amendments to the constitution put forth by Mulroney.

Wells said he believed at the time that the accord would give provinces different statuses, something he took issue with.

"A federation is like a family, and you can't treat one of the siblings differently than the others," said Wells, who also said the accord would make it difficult to reform the senate.

Wells said he was prepared to be outvoted on the matter and the dispute "fairly significantly" impacted his relationship with Mulroney, adding he felt his concerns with the Meech Lake Accord were never addressed and that Mulroney didn't sufficiently defend his own stance.

Afterwards, Mulroney blamed Wells for his role in killing the accord.

LISTEN | Former N.L. premier Clyde Wells and current premier Andrew Furey speak about their relationships with Brian Mulroney.

"From my point of view, he just attacked me personally and that made it a bit difficult between us. But … when we get together, he'd be very charming and very pleasant," said Wells.

Wells said Mulroney wanted to resolve "unacceptable constitutional circumstances in Canada and he was quite prepared to tackle it."

"It's just the proposals that he put forward were good for one province but in my view disastrous for the rest of the country."

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Clyde Wells, whose political interactions with Edward Roberts began in 1965, said the following about his late friend and colleague: “I never had anything other than the utmost respect for his intelligence and competence, and his integrity and principle."
Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Clyde Wells, whose political interactions with Edward Roberts began in 1965, said the following about his late friend and colleague: “I never had anything other than the utmost respect for his intelligence and competence, and his integrity and principle."

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Clyde Wells remembers Mulroney from first-year law school as a gregarious and social person. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Wells said Mulroney's legacy is that he raised big issues like free trade, something he said many Canadians, himself included, were uncertain about, but that Mulroney was right about.

"I think Canada has benefited greatly from the free trade agreement. The same with GST."

Moreover, he said Mulroney was "a leader in the world" on the issue of apartheid in South Africa.

Guiding advice

Premier Andrew Furey said that when he became premier, Mulroney reached out to him and they had a conversation about the federation, the province and the state of political affairs.

That fall, Furey said, he spoke with Mulroney, as he was looking for advice on what he called "the current state of the Canadian political landscape and how it seems to be occupied by extremes at the moment." Furey called it a "gut check" as well as some self-reassurance that central politics was still alive.

Furey said Mulroney advised him to use his profile as premier not to respond to "character assassinations," but to elevate the debate above the extremes.

"And while we share different political stripes, our goals and objectives, it was pretty clear we're fairly aligned. And that advice that at that time was was important to me in establishing the right relationship with Ottawa," said Furey.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey speaks at a St. John's Board of Trade meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 24.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey speaks at a St. John's Board of Trade meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey says he spoke with Brian Mulroney in the fall about the state of politics. (Patrick Butler/CBC)

Different time

Tim Powers, a longtime political strategist, managing director of Abacus Data and chair of Summa Strategies, said Mulroney was a political leader during a time when politicians were "rewarded for bold initiatives, for consequential initiatives.

"You don't see that sort of leadership today."

Powers said Mulroney worked across party lines because that was what was done in his day.

After news of Mulroney's death on Thursday evening, Powers shared an image on social media of Mulroney, the late John Crosbie and Powers's father Barney Powers. His sister pointed out that all three men are dead now, which he said hit him.

"They worked hard and they played hard. But they all had sort of a shared goal particularly as it related to Newfoundland and Labrador. Really hit home," he said.

"Don't be afraid to be bold, don't be afraid to be transformative, but always remember to be kind and treat people well. And certainly that was Brian Mulroney."

Powers noted that initially, Mulroney and John Crosbie had an "acrimonious" relationship because they both ran for the Conservative leadership race in 1983. Powers said Crosbie's wife Jane once told Mulroney that on election night she would be sleeping with the new party leader.

"So the next morning, of course, they wake up, Mr. Mulroney's won. John asks her, 'How was your night with Brian Mulroney?'"

Powers chuckled, adding that Jane loved telling that story and Mulroney loved hearing it.

"But you know that was the era. Different time. But God, we miss some of those players and they made a huge difference in our province," said Powers.

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