Canada state funeral honors former PM Brian Mulroney

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Politicians, dignitaries and celebrities joined members of the public on Saturday at a state funeral to honor Brian Mulroney, one of Canada’s most consequential prime ministers who in the 1980s solidified trade ties with the U.S. and spoke out against South Africa’s apartheid.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former U.S. Secretary State James Baker as well as hockey great Wayne Gretzky were among the attendees at Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica. Mulroney, who died Feb. 29 at age 84, was prime minister for nine years between 1984 and 1993 and led the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

“He shaped our history. He got the big things right,” Trudeau said to reporters outside the church before going in. “He had a huge impact.”

Mulroney’s legacy includes the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed between Canada, the United States and Mexico during his time as prime minister, his participation in the fight against South African apartheid, the 1991 acid rain accord with the U.S. and the introduction of an unpopular sales tax that represents a significant amount of government revenue.

The funeral follows four days of public tributes in Montreal and Ottawa during which political dignitaries and members of the public filed by Mulroney’s casket and paid their respects to his wife and four children.

“Every day of my life my dad told me that I was the greatest daughter that God put on this earth. Now we all know how much he liked hyperbole, but how lucky am I,” Caroline Mulroney, his daughter, said in her eulogy. “He gave me love, confidence and strength … we are heartbroken by our loss. We adored him. I miss you daddy.”

Mulroney had enduring friendships with former U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and eulogized both at their funerals.

Reagan and Mulroney became friends as two national leaders during the last decade of the Cold War. Mulroney’s nine years in power overlapped with Bush’s four.

It was Mulroney’s amiable relationship with his southern counterparts that helped develop a free trade treaty, a hotly contested pact at the time. The trade deal led to a permanent realignment of the Canadian economy and huge increases in north-south trade.

Mulroney was first elected in 1984 after winning the largest majority in Parliament in Canadian history, but he left almost a decade later with the lowest approval rating in Canadian history. His Progressive Conservative party suffered a devastating defeat just after he left office. But in the years after the loss, prime ministers sought his advice.

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