Our prime ministers are always a long way from the collegial tone between former U.S. presidents.
True enough. As Radwanski points out, it’s impossible to imagine an interview such as this one with Mulroney and Jean Chrétien in the place of their respective good friends, George and Bill.
Or Chrétien and Paul Martin. Or Mulroney and Joe Clark.
Why is that? Maybe it’s the nature of our political systems. Ex-presidents are all former heads of state. In Canada, it’s governors-general, not prime ministers, who serve in that above-politics role.
And in the U.S., there are few opportunities for hostile public encounters between leaders. At most, any two ex-Presidents will have faced each other in debate a handful of times during an election campaign, or over the course of a race to lead their party.
In Canada, party leaders can spend years and years standing two swords’ lengths across from each other in Parliament, day after day, lobbing insults back and forth.
Or – as with Mulroney and Clark or Chrétien and Martin – former leaders may have battled each other for years and years within the same political parties.
A better explanation for the less-collegial tone of ex-leader relations in Canada may be that old saying about university politics:
The politics are more vicious because the stakes are much smaller.
Of course, Chrétien and Trudeau got along well, as do Mulroney and the current PM, Stephen Harper. But those are relationships between leaders of different generations – less collegial, perhaps, and more like those of mentor to protégé.
In recent memory, the two former Prime Ministers who may be the most buddy-buddy are Martin and Mulroney.
Their social relationship – as related by John Sawatzky in his Mulroney bio – goes back to the late-60s / early-70s, when both moved in the same Montreal business circles.
The most recent public evidence of collegiality between the two: When then-Prime Minister Paul Martin spoke at a Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner a couple of years ago, he gave Mulroney an opportunity to attack another one of the former Tory PM’s nemeses.
Mulroney delivered the line of the night: