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The former Prime Minister was celebrated as a political powerhouse who took massive risks for the better of the country. Mr. Mulroney was prime minister from 1984 to 1993, and died on Feb. 29 at the age of 84

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The casket of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is carried out at the end of his funeral, in Montreal, March 23, 2024.Adrian Wyld/Pool/Reuters

Canada’s 18th prime minister was remembered as a funny, kind and wise man at his state funeral on Saturday, where many of Canada’s most prominent business and political leaders gathered with Brian Mulroney’s family to pay their final respects to a titan of Canadian politics.

Mr. Mulroney, prime minister from 1984 to 1993, died on Feb. 29 at the age of 84. His state funeral was the culmination of five days of public mourning that began on Tuesday in Ottawa with his lying in state.

Church bells tolled 84 times, one for each year of Brian Mulroney’s life, as the funeral procession made its way to the basilica. Through snowy and blustery streets, representatives from the RCMP and the Canadian Armed Forces escorted Mr. Mulroney’s casket through Montreal.

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The hearse carrying the casket of Brian Mulroney arrives for his state funeral.Evan Buhler/Reuters

Hollywood Actor Ryan Reynolds, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and Montreal Canadiens co-owner Geoff Molson were among the 1,300 guests who descended on the Notre-Dame Basilica to celebrate Mr. Mulroney’s life and legacy.

At his funeral, he was celebrated as a political powerhouse who picked big fights and took massive risks for the better of his country. Over two majority government victories, he struck a free-trade deal, inked an acid-rain treaty and put Canada on the international map as a leader against apartheid and the first Western country to recognize Ukrainian independence.

Earlier: Brian Mulroney's funeral, moment by moment with The Globe

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former Quebec premier Jean Charest, media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau, and hockey great Wayne Gretzky all gave eulogies, it was his family who had the first and nearly final word on Mr. Mulroney, who was first and foremost a family man.

The former Progressive Conservative prime minister’s oldest child and only daughter, Caroline Mulroney, spoke first, setting the tone of a ceremony with jokes and a nod to her dad’s legendary gift for the gab.

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Mila and Caroline Mulroney attend a state funeral of their husband and father, late former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who died on February 29 at the age of 84.Blair Gable/Reuters

“Speeches were such a major part of his life, that he told us that when it was his turn to go up to what he called ‘that great political rally in the sky,’ he wanted us to bury him with his podium,” she said, prompting a chuckle from the audience.

Her dad’s humble beginnings, growing up in a small pulp-mill town on Quebec’s north shore, shaped his belief that no matter someone’s stature in society, they all mattered, Caroline said, and it informed how he treated everyone he came across, and friend and foe alike in politics.

“To dad, everyone mattered,” she said.

Mila and Mark Mulroney spoke to guests at an event following the state funeral for former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in Montreal on Saturday.

Mr. Mulroney’s daughter lifted the veil on the man the country knows as a former prime minister, and introduced them to Mr. Mulroney – the dad. He carried her to bed as a child, would wait for her with a glass of champagne when she was older and spending long days at work, and he counselled her on entering politics. And she said he stood in awe of her three brothers’ Ben, Mark and Nicolas’s accomplishments in media, finance and business.

None of it though would have been possible without his wife of half a century: Mila.

“Together for 51 years, they were a political powerhouse. They achieved the unimaginable in their private and public lives, because they did everything together,” she said.

“While he didn’t care for polls, he did like good headlines and those of the past few weeks would have pleased him immeasurably.”

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney was remembered at his state funeral in Montreal as a larger-than-life figure who transcended politics. Family members, friends and current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared fond memories of Mulroney in eulogies at Notre Dame Basilica.

The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last spoke at the Notre-Dame Basilica for his father Pierre’s funeral in 2000, offered an address praising Mr. Mulroney’s legacy.

“He thought big, but the little guy from Baie-Comeau knew how to keep both feet on the ground,” Mr. Trudeau said, “and worked hard under all circumstances.”

The Prime Minister recalled how Mr. Mulroney would often tell him, during NAFTA renegotiations with Donald Trump’s administration, that “it is at the end of the night that we recognize the best dancers.”

“It was a lesson of discipline, determination and perseverance,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Today, it’s the end of the night for a giant.”

Mr. Trudeau also celebrated Mr. Mulroney’s generosity, charm and sense of humour, recounting a story that the former prime minister used to share about buoying then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s spirits amid declining public support.

His words of comfort: “I don’t know how to break this to you, but Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl and I combined don’t have your 59-per-cent approval rating.”

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Almost all other living former prime ministers also attended the funeral, including Kim Campbell, Jean Chrétien, Joe Clark and Stephen Harper. Also in attendance were UN ambassador Bob Rae, former Canadian ambassador to China Dominic Barton, chairman and president of Loblaw Cos. Ltd. Galen Weston Jr., and Indigo founder and CEO Heather Reisman.

Federal party leaders, cabinet ministers and a litany of current and former premiers were also in attendance.

In a brief eulogy, Mr. Gretzky regaled the audience with stories of Brian Mulroney’s humour and human touch, and how the two greats of hockey and politics would rib each other over which team won a championship and who was stealing the mic on stage.

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Former NHL player Wayne Gretzky speaks at the funeral of former prime minister Brian Mulroney.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

“I’m so proud to be Canadian today,” Mr. Gretzky said. “To see past prime ministers here, the current prime minister, that’s what our country is all about: coming together, being friendly, helping other people and paying respects, and Mr. Mulroney was one of the greatest prime ministers we’ve ever had.”

In his eulogy, Mr. Péladeau said Mr. Mulroney and his family were an inspiration to him throughout his life. “To me, Mr. Mulroney was a second father. He always knew where I was coming from,” he said.

Mr. Péladeau recalled how Mr. Mulroney negotiated the first collective agreement of the Journal de Montréal, a newspaper created by Mr. Péladeau’s father, setting it up for success. But Mr. Mulroney worked for the betterment of society at large, Mr. Péladeau said, citing the fight against apartheid as the former prime minister’s greatest achievment.

Tim McBride, a close colleague of James Baker, U.S. secretary of the treasury during free-trade talks with the Mulroney government, spoke on Mr. Baker’s behalf as he was recovering from surgery and unable to attend in person.

“To those of us south of the Canadian border, Brian Mulroney was a friend, a staunch and supportive friend who had the confidence to tell us when he found a different American approach might serve our country better,” he said.

“We always listened to Brian Mulroney.”

The final eulogy was delivered by Mr. Charest, a long-time friend and political ally of Mr. Mulroney dating back to their time in government together. He praised the former prime minister’s capacity to bring the country together and gather support for free trade. Mr. Mulroney, he said, “had politics in his skin.”

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Former Quebec premier Jean Charest touches the casket of former prime minister Brian Mulroney.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

The former Quebec premier lauded Mr. Mulroney’s ability to make tough choices for the greater good, citing the unpopular implementation of the GST. While that move helped sink his government, Mr. Charest noted that the wildly unpopular economic policy also happens to be the most popular economic policy among all the prime ministers and governments that followed Mr. Mulroney’s.

“Brian Mulroney chose to spend his political capital, he took risks and by doing so became one of those rarest of leaders able to define an era as his own,” Mr. Charest said.

He also celebrated Mr. Mulroney’s environmental record, noting that in 2006, he was recognized as “Canada’s Greenest Prime Minister,” earning that label for accomplishments such as negotiating an acid-rain treaty, striking the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer and establishing national parks.

Like all the other eulogies, Mr. Charest turned to the former prime minister’s personal touch – a defining character of the man long after he had left government. There’s not enough time in a lifetime to hear all of the stories of the people Mr. Mulroney reached out to, particularly when their chips were down, said Mr. Charest.

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Mila Mulroney watches as Archbishop of Montreal Christian Lepine blesses late former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's casket with a censer during his funeral.Ryan Remiorz/Reuters

”He wanted to share with them what he knew to be true: That whatever the circumstances, things will come to pass,” Mr. Charest said. “They knew from having spoken to him that they were not alone, that they had his support and his friendship.”

“Canadians pay their respect and express their very deep gratitude to one of Canada’s greatest prime ministers and one of Canada’s true nation builders, Brian Mulroney.”

One of Mr. Mulroney’s granddaughters, Elizabeth Theodora Lapham, helped close out the service with a tearful rendition of her “papa’s” favourite song Mais qu’est-ce que j’ai? by Henri Betti and Édith Piaf.

She stayed to sing a duet of When Irish Eyes are Smiling with Tenor Marc Hervieux. But after getting part way through the chorus, they stepped back from the mics and let a recording of Mr. Mulroney’s baritone complete the ode – which he once sang alongside Mr. Reagan.

“And when Irish eyes are smiling, sure they steal your heart away,” he sang.

Read more

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Opinion: Quebeckers will never forget how Brian Mulroney fought for them

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Opinion: To honour Brian Mulroney, let us honour the mediating symbols of our House of Commons

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