Guest Commentary

Hugh Segal

The Angry Years

(Editor’s note: Hugh Segal, now-retired Conservative Senator from Toronto, in 1991 joined Brian Mulroney’s staff as senior policy advisor. He said the appointment was like boarding the Titanic. Mulroney resigned in 1993 with a twelve percent approval rating. In that year’s election, more than half of Conservative candidates lost their deposits; only two were elected MPs. Mr. Segal recalled that tumultuous era in a May 31, 2011 interview with Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan. Following is a transcript of his remarks)

Prime Minister Mulroney was profoundly unpopular. More people in Canada thought Elvis Presley was alive than were planning to vote for the Mulroney government. I remember very angry people out waving signs; someone once tried to hit Mrs. Mulroney.  That is not who Canadians generally are, but the anger was intense.

I was travelling with the Prime Minister and we had a large fundraising dinner in Winnipeg. The Premier came to meet the Prime Minister, to have the usual list of things Manitoba needed, and at the end the meeting which had gone relatively well, he indicated he was too busy to make it to the fundraising dinner that night. There was a pretty focused exchange between the two of them in terms what a definition of loyalty in tough times might look like.

We did not get our act together. We engaged in ideological nitpicking. We put our own interests ahead of the country. That’s always wrong. The voters get that really quickly.

No coalition is permanent. No integration of different interests goes on in perpetuity. No party has the right to assume, problem solved! When parties become complacent in office, that is the precise moment it starts to come apart. I think after ten years in office, it was probably time for a change anyway.

There was cynicism about the traditional structure of the country. That’s not a bad thing in a democratic system. It shows that people can say, you know what? Actually, we are in charge.

Now our politics have become more fractious, more regionalized. People are more concerned about fairness to their region than any kind of perspective of the country as a whole. People worry about whose ox is being gored and how fairly they’re being treated. Political parties are supposed to broker these interests to produce a sense of national fairness and balance, but sometimes it fails so badly that national parties fragment and come apart.

Regionalism is like an illness that goes into remission. It will always be there, always circulating in the bloodstream, able to be inflamed. It can burst out any time, and any politician who thinks they can move ahead without worrying about it is being insensitive to the core risk to national unity. That is Canadian history.

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