MONTREAL — Some of Canada's business and political elite paid tribute to former prime minister Brian Mulroney Thursday night and raised money for the foundation of Universite de Montreal's hospital centre.
The 18th prime minister was the guest of honour for the hospital fundraiser at the city's Ritz-Carlton hotel. Guests included financier and Liberal party fundraiser Stephen Bronfman, Cirque du Soleil Chairman Mitch Garber and Bombardier President Alain Bellemare.
Michael Sabia, president of Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, said Mulroney made significant structural changes to Canada's economy, particularly with his negotiation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
"We all take the trade agreement for granted right now but in that day it was a major change in Canadian economic policy and an important one," Sabia said in an interview.
Mulroney, he said, continues to serve as an example of the importance of government policy and the "impact it can have in the growth trajectory of the country."
Sabia also saluted Mulroney for his stance against South Africa's apartheid government in the 1990s.
But a decade ago, the country's elite weren't as eager to fete the former Canadian leader.
In 2010, Mulroney's image was tarnished after Justice Jeffrey Oliphant found the ex-PM had an "inappropriate" relationship with German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber.
Mulroney had admitted receiving $225,000 in cash-stuffed envelopes from Schreiber during surreptitious exchanges in hotel rooms in the early 1990s — and keeping it secret for years. But he insisted it was for legal consulting work, not for lobbying government as Schreiber claimed.
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who served in Mulroney's cabinet, said Thursday night's attendees showed up to honour Mulroney for what he represented and contributed to this country.
"He was one of the most — if not the most — significant prime minister of our modern times," Charest said.
Mulroney wasn't interested in speaking about his past during the event.
He was asked how he felt being celebrated by politicians and business leaders when a decade prior he was in what was described as political purgatory following the Schreiber affair.
"Oh for God's sake!" he said to The Canadian Press, and left to join his esteemed guests.
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press