I feel as though I trailed around after Margaret Thatcher through much of my political life.
First, she was one of the influences that led me to seek a political nomination in 1983. I had always been absorbed by politics, but my participation had always been as a volunteer. By the early 1980's, I was drawn to the idea of running for office – but still toying with the idea. Margaret Thatcher burst on the scene like a comet with hair and a purse. Like a comet, she lit up the world; unlike a comet she did not disappear – she stayed around to change her country profoundly and, indeed, the world. She and I bore not one whit of resemblance to each other, but in part because of her I began to see myself as a serious candidate. It was the woman thing, and I finally pushed myself off the starter mark and won.
Second, my first ministerial job as Minister of State for Finance was to undertake reform of Canada's financial sector, a long-favourite policy of then prime minister Brian Mulroney. Margaret Thatcher was starting to overhaul British banking through deregulation and increased transparency: The Green Paper on Financial Institution Reform that we unleashed on the Canadian public was based on some of the same principles and proceeded more or less at the same time.
Third, my next ministerial challenge was privatization – this time following in the wake of Margaret Thatcher. Her privatization of British Gas and British Airways were models to be followed in our sale of companies like Canadair, Teleglobe and Air Canada.
Finally, I became secretary of state for External Affairs just as the Cold War was ending. Margaret Thatcher was no longer prime minister, but her role in working with Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and other G8 leaders to end east-west tensions was perhaps her greatest contribution.
Strangely enough, through all this I had only met her two or three times in passing. But at the G8 summit in London in July, 1991, I sat with her at a state dinner at Buckingham Palace. John Major was by then prime minister, and therefore hosting along with the Queen. Mrs. Thatcher was a guest along with many others – her first G8 where she had not been among the leaders. She was perfectly pleasant company, but there was something rather forlorn about this formerly indomitable leader who was now an ordinary bystander. I was happy to share her company, nevertheless, even for a few minutes. Like the trooper that she was, she carried off being a bystander with the greatest of dignity.
I have not seen her since.
Barbara McDougall was Secretary of State for External Affairs from 1991 to 1993