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Mulroney remembered as statesman, nation-builder by construction stakeholders

Don Wall
Mulroney remembered as statesman, nation-builder by construction stakeholders
REAGAN WHITE HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHS — Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan (left) and then prime minister Brian Mulroney chatted in Italy in 1987. The two were famously on friendly terms.

Construction stakeholders were effusive in their praise for the legacy of Canada’s 18th prime minister, Brian Mulroney, who died in Florida with his family at his side on Feb. 29.

A state funeral for him will be held on March 23 in Montreal.

Mulroney, prime minister from 1984 to 1993, was called a nation-builder and a strong and charismatic leader whose economic policies, particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) his government negotiated with the U.S. and Mexico, paved the way for greater prosperity for Canadian businesses including constructors and consulting engineers.

In statements, tweets and interviews construction observers also remembered the late Progressive Conservative leader for his support for projects like the Confederation Bridge between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick as well as his respect for the trades, given that his father was an electrician.

“Brian Mulroney had a vision. He had the confidence that Canada could compete with anybody in the world,” said John Gamble, president and CEO of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies – Canada.  

“He had no doubts that Canada could go toe to toe with the United States and we saw that with NAFTA…You look at global billing for the top 20 engineering companies in the world and four are headquartered here in Canada. He gave Canada a little bit of a swagger.”


NAFTA led to strong economy: Van Buren

Mary Van Buren, president of the Canadian Construction Association, said the former prime minister was committed to creating the conditions for a strong economy through free trade and investment in trade-enabling infrastructure, mentioning the Confederation Bridge.

“This leadership helped to build and strengthen communities across Canada. The investments his government made helped to pay for the infrastructure we needed like parks, community centres, health care and education, which have contributed to Canadians’ quality of life.”

Council of Ontario Construction Associations president Ian Cunningham said the creation of the GST and his free trade agreements were Mulroney’s greatest contributions to Canadian prosperity.

“Brian Mulroney will go down in history as one of Canada’s great prime ministers,” stated Cunningham, noting he was “widely acknowledged internationally for his contributions to the environment and human rights.

“He was a remarkable person, uniquely gifted with high intellect, charming personality and superior political skill and acumen.”  


Workers unprotected: Dillon

The 1988 election campaign developed into a referendum on free trade with Mulroney sparring on the debate stage with then Liberal leader John Turner.

Sean Strickland, executive director of Canada’s Building Trade Unions, recalled how Canada was divided over the issue.

“Mulroney was one of the most consequential in Canadian history, and helped shape the country and the world we live in today. Mulroney never shied away from tough, and sometimes controversial, decisions,” stated Strickland.


Victoria and Joseph Mancinelli met with former prime minister Brian Mulroney (centre) at a dinner in 2019.
MANCINELLI X — Victoria and Joseph Mancinelli met with former prime minister Brian Mulroney (centre) at a dinner in 2019.


“At the time, his decisions on free trade and implementing the GST disproportionately and negatively impacted working people. However, the test of time has shown that these decisions, while unpopular and arguably poorly executed, were the right ones for Canada.”

Former Ontario Building Trades business manager Patrick Dillon also called out NAFTA as being flawed. He said Mulroney was a strong, impactful leader.

“I supported the principle of having an FTA but there was very little free about it at the time, mostly because it did not have labour standards as part of the agreement to protect workers from investors seeking out low-wage economic areas in either country and driving down wages,” Dillon said.

In 1988, after the federal department of Public Works and Government Services had selected a bridge design for the Confederation Bridge out of several proposals, Prince Edward Islanders voted to proceed with the project in a plebiscite.

Sam Sanderson, general manager of the Construction Association of Prince Edward Island, said Mulroney was “very instrumental” on the bridge and it was “truly an incredible piece of engineering and workmanship.

“It had a tremendous positive impact for P.E.I.”

Three generations of the Mancinelli family, all LIUNA executives in Ontario, got to know and respect the late prime minister, said Victoria Mancinelli, LIUNA 183 communications director.

Joseph Mancinelli, LIUNA international vice-president and Canadian director, tweeted, “Brian Mulroney was a true gentleman and will be greatly missed.”

Joseph Mancinelli and his father before him in that role, Henry Mancinelli, worked with Mulroney on numerous files and he was always “respectful, honest and bold,” said Victoria Mancinelli. 

“Brian Mulroney was a true gentleman with immense respect and appreciation for the trades as a son of an electrician,” she said. “His legacy has and will continue to have a lasting impact on Canada.”

Follow the author on X/Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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