Like many other Canadians who were active in international affairs during the time the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister during his term between 1984 to 1993, I mourn his loss.

It is his commitment to ending the vile system of apartheid in South Africa that I draw your attention to.  Mulroney came into power when everyone was talking about South Africa.  The Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to South African Desmond Tutu on October 16, 1984, and the United Nations was consumed by the issue of apartheid.

In 1984, as Mulroney and his outstanding Secretary of State the Right Honourable Joe Clark were formulating Canada’s positions, Margaret Thatcher in London was pushing back hard against any talk of sanctions against South Africa and Ronald Reagan in Washington, DC was, at best, ambivalent towards South Africa.  It would have been easy for Canada to fall in line with its powerful neighbours particularly since Canada had no real interests of investments or trade in South Africa at that time.

I had a perch as Executive Director of the United Nations Association and had the privilege of representing Canada in the UN General Assembly during the fortieth session in 1985.  Mulroney came and spoke with strong conviction to the all-white six South African delegates and the world to dismantle apartheid.  He announced in that speech he was prepared to sever all ties with South Africa. He opposed apartheid then and subsequently publicly and privately as forcefully as one could.

My last meeting with Mulroney happened by chance in a lounge at an airport.  I went over to merely say hello, but he invited me to sit with him and chat over a coffee.  We spoke about international affairs during his premiership, including the US-Soviet Union relationship and the issues around nuclear disarmament.  But we mainly talked about South Africa.  I told him I was proud to be Canadian every time I talked to Desmond Tutu or visited South Africa, which I was doing frequently at the time, because of his and Clark’s work.

During his time in leadership, Canada “punched above its weight”.  On many issues including on dismantling apartheid, Canada punched way, way, above its weight.  Mulroney was committed to opposing apartheid simply because it was the right thing to do.  There’s a concept we need to be reminded of.

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