Andrew Cohen (The Ottawa Citizen):
In Canada, Harper rarely said anything memorable. His speeches, for the most part, were bland. That’s how he wanted them – innocent of metaphor or simile, shorn of elegance, devoid of humour. Pity his speechwriters; even their herculean efforts could not draw words from the prime minister that anyone might repeat, let alone remember.
So here comes [former Prime Minister Brian] Mulroney with some things to say to his dispirited party, and a honeyed way of saying them. He speaks to a country used to hearing leaders using canned phrases and poll-tested lines, packaged for television and Twitter.
But here, surprisingly, is an adversary speaking well of Justin Trudeau (“sparkling with promise and passion. I know that all Canadians wish him well.”) Here is a former leader warning Conservatives that they will only return to power “when Canadians feel they are worthy of their trust, that we reflect their values and that we offer them a vision of Canada that is grand, generous and true.”
He calls for his co-religionists to adopt a tone that rejects “harshness,” that understands Canadians and projects confidence. This is a rejection, without directly saying so, of the small, mean and narrow politics of the last government.
Mulroney buttressed his theme by citing Sir John A. Macdonald, the founder of his party. But Mulroney, knowing the properties of a good speech, is unafraid to quote from others, including Robert Kennedy, Theodore Sorensen and D’Arcy McGee. Heavens, he even cited Lester Pearson, whose good name John Baird and other Conservatives refused to utter.
Mulroney, bless him, is bigger than that, and bigger than those who took power in 2006. He has earned the right to say certain things: Mulroney won two consecutive majorities and used them as license to act boldly on free trade, taxation, acid rain and apartheid, for which he was recently decorated by South Africa.
Mulroney made mistakes in office – principally his misguided attempt at constitutional reform. He made mistakes after he left office, too, falling into bad company, which soiled his reputation.
But give him this: today, after a low, dishonest decade of politics, he speaks to our better angels. He understands implicitly that governments must do things, that they must show ambition, that they must be decent and progressive.
He warned Conservatives publicly not to underestimate Justin Trudeau, which they did, and warned them privately that they would be defeated if they did not run a different campaign. He quietly predicted a Liberal majority 10 days before the election. He was right about his party and his country.
And he is right about asking us for more – in language that reminds us of the value of leadership and the power of oratory.