April 17th, 2024

Former premiers, other dignitaries pay respects to Brian Mulroney in Montreal

By Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press on March 21, 2024.

A hearse carrying the casket of the late prime minister Brian Mulroney pauses as it is driven past the Centennial Flame and Centre Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

MONTREAL – Prominent Quebec political leaders and other dignitaries arrived to St. Patrick’s Basilica in Montreal Thursday to pay their final respects to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who died Feb. 29 at age 84.

Lucien Bouchard, Quebec premier from 1996 to 2001 and a cabinet minister in Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government until a falling out over the Constitution, was one of the first to enter the basilica on Thursday morning and greet the Mulroney family.

“It’s a page that is turning in history,” Bouchard told reporters upon exiting the basilica. “It’s not a happy moment but we need to salute the life of a remarkable man.”

Mulroney’s legacy includes the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed between Canada, the United States and Mexico during his time as prime minister, Bouchard said. He also lauded Mulroney’s fight against South African apartheid and his support of Nelson Mandela, the jailed civil rights leader who would become president of the African country.

Bouchard said that he had reconciled with Mulroney after a long period of frosty relations. “A reopening did happen,” he said.

“Those were great times and sad at the same time, because we lost so much time, and you can’t help thinking that if we could go back, then maybe it would be a bit better to manage. But we were young — ego, strong convictions from a very legitimate question at stake. It’s a lesson. Politics is necessary but it’s also necessary to deal with it in a human way.”

Earlier, Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine led a procession into the church, with Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in dress uniform carrying the casket draped in a Canadian flag and Mulroney’s family walking behind.

Inside the church, the family greeting line included Mulroney’s wife Mila and their children Caroline, Ben, Nick and Mark, along with Mark’s wife Vanessa and Caroline’s husband Andrew Lapham.

The casket will lie Thursday and Friday at the Catholic church, built between 1843 and 1847, which served Montreal’s Irish community, many of whom had fled famine in Ireland. A state funeral is set for Saturday at the nearby Notre-Dame Basilica, with eulogies from Caroline Mulroney, former Quebec premier Jean Charest and hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

His casket left Ottawa on Wednesday after two days of lying in state that included visits from Canada’s prime minister, other political dignitaries and members of the public.

Charest, Quebec premier between 2003-2012 and member of Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative cabinet, told reporters Thursday outside the church that “this is a very sad moment, but it’s also beautiful in some ways, as the country pauses to think and reflect upon the heritage of Brian Mulroney and what he has given to the country.”

Mulroney, who served as prime minister for nine years between 1984 and 1993, was “exceptional,” Charest said.

“These moments in the life of Canada are important and I sincerely hope that a lot of Canadians will take a moment to stop and reflect and think about what we’ve built together and the very important role that Brian Mulroney has played.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2024.

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