The day after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August, 1990, George H.W. Bush called Brian Mulroney to ask him to the White House. Over a small dinner that also included first lady Barbara Bush, national-security adviser Brent Scowcroft and Derek Burney, Canada’s ambassador to Washington, the U.S. president sought the Canadian prime minister’s counsel.
Canada would back the United States in driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, Mr. Mulroney told Mr. Bush, so long as the Americans went through the United Nations. He also offered some practical advice in rallying allies: Call François Mitterrand at 3 a.m. Washington time, to make clear to the French president the importance of the conversation, and let him think that he was the first world leader Mr. Bush had spoken with.
Mr. Bush, for his part, entrusted Mr. Mulroney with a copy of the CIA’s raw data on the unfolding situation in Iraq.
The episode – recounted by Mr. Mulroney in an interview Sunday – was emblematic of the close rapport Mr. Bush cultivated with his country’s northern neighbour during his four years in office.
“An extremely important dimension of his relationship with Canada, perhaps unique, was the extent to which he involved us in all major decisions,” Mr. Mulroney said. “We worked very intimately and out of the public eye, because he had complete faith in Canada.”
The 41st U.S. president died late Friday at his home in Houston, at the age of 94. Mr. Mulroney will deliver a eulogy on Wednesday during Mr. Bush’s funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington.
Mr. Bush, the scion of a New England business and political dynasty, served in the U.S. Navy in the Second World War and worked in the oil industry before winning a seat in Congress. After stints as the U.S. ambassador to the UN, an envoy to China, head of the Republican National Committee, director of the CIA and vice-president in Ronald Reagan’s administration, he was elected to the White House in 1988.
During his single term, Mr. Bush was best known for presiding over the end of the Cold War – with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – and leading the 35-country alliance that drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
But he also made his mark closer to home: In 1991, he and Mr. Mulroney signed the Air Quality Agreement to fight the rise of acid rain. They also negotiated NAFTA, an expansion of the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement that brought Mexico into the fold and created one of the world’s most lucrative free-trade zones.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Mr. Bush’s “exemplary service” in a statement from Buenos Aires, a day after signing a renegotiated version of NAFTA with current President Donald Trump at the G20 summit.
“President Bush was a dedicated and thoughtful leader who stuck by his convictions and values. He did much to strengthen relations between our two countries,” Mr. Trudeau said. On Sunday, the Prime Minister phoned former president George W. Bush, the oldest of Mr. Bush’s six children, to pass along his condolences.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer described the elder Mr. Bush as “a great friend to Canada.”
“His decades-long record of service is both his lasting legacy to his country and a benchmark of sacrifice and patriotism to which all public servants should aspire,” he tweeted.
When Mr. Bush was in the White House, Mr. Mulroney said, the president was always available to hash out issues.
On acid rain, for instance, Mr. Mulroney had pressed Mr. Reagan for years for a pact to combat sulphur-dioxide and nitrogen-oxide emissions to no avail. But during Mr. Bush’s first visit to Canada as president, he told the prime minister he was willing to overrule objections by the U.S. business community to get a deal done.
Not long after, Mr. Mulroney recalled, he got wind that the United States was looking to negotiate a bilateral trade deal with Mexico. He called Mr. Bush, who invited him to Washington. Over lunch in the Oval Office dining room the following day, Mr. Mulroney pushed the president to include Canada in the talks. Days later, secretary of state James Baker called Mr. Mulroney to invite Canada to the table, and NAFTA negotiations began.
A few weeks after their initial conversation on Iraq in August, 1990, Mr. Bush and Mr. Mulroney hunkered down at the president’s summer home in Kennebunkport, Me., to call world leaders and secure the necessary UN votes to intervene.
“I knew that with him in the White House, day or night, I could call him or he would call me,” Mr. Mulroney said. “We would get it done.”
The pair remained close after each left office. Three years ago, Mr. Bush asked Mr. Mulroney to eulogize him when the time came.
They last saw each other in September, when Mr. Mulroney went to Maine to accept the George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service.
Mr. Bush was unable to attend the event, but Mr. Mulroney stayed with him at his summer home, visiting at length before the ceremony. Mr. Bush insisted on hearing the acceptance speech Mr. Mulroney would give that night. Then, the former president wanted to listen to a CD that Mr. Mulroney had recorded of himself singing 1940s pop numbers.
“George was sitting there with a big smile on his face and his right hand tapping his wheelchair in time with the music,” Mr. Mulroney said. “I’ll carry that image of him forever.”