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Former prime minister Brian Mulroney honoured at state funeral

The late Brian Mulroney — who steered the country through tumultuous times domestically and on the world stage as prime minister — was remembered today as a politician who made tough choices for the greater good at his state funeral in Montreal.

"He took risks and, by doing so, became one of those rarest of leaders — able to define an era as his own," former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who served in Mulroney's cabinet, told the crowd at Montreal's historic Notre-Dame Basilica.

"Here, now, at this very moment, we live in a world that he helped shape."

Mulroney — whose leadership from 1984 to 1993 earned him both praise and controversy — died surrounded by his family in Florida on Feb. 29. He was 84.

The first person to eulogize Mulroney during the two-hours-plus ceremony was his daughter Caroline Mulroney, an Ontario cabinet minister.
A picture of late former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney.
A picture of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who died Feb. 29 at the age of 84, is displayed on the day of his state funeral at the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal on Saturday, March 23, 2024. (Blair Gable/Reuters)
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"No one gave a speech like my dad," she said.

The packed church, filled with a who's-who of Canadian politics past and present, laughed as Caroline talked about her father's love of public speaking.

"He wanted us to bury him at his podium," she said.

"My Dad saw the world in a bigger way than most," she said.

"His humanity defined him, which is why he transcended politics and connected people in a way that left an indelible mark on their hearts and on their souls."

Through tears, she shared her father's last moments with those in the packed pews.

She said her mother laid her hands on his cheeks and asked, "Oh Brian, are you coming back to me?"

"His body was tired but his heart would not let him give us up. So Dad looked at Mom and, with what were his final words to her, he said, 'I plan to.'

"We are heartbroken by our loss. We adored him. I miss you, Daddy."

Mulroney's love of family was a theme throughout the sendoff. His three sons, Ben, Mark and Nicolas, offered prayers and one of his granddaughters, Elizabeth Theodora Lapham, took the stage to sing one of her grandfather's favourite songs — When Irish Eyes Are Smiling — with tenor Marc Hervieuz.

As the song finished, guests heard a recording of Mulroney finishing the tune. The stirring moment drew a standing ovation and some some attendees fought back tears.

In his eulogy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Mulroney was motivated by "by getting the big things right" and always remained "generous, charming and very funny."

"We all know how Brian loved to win, yet his most cherished victories were non-partisan — those moments when the true winner was Canada itself," he said.

"Because he loved this country with all his heart. And he didn't just love Canada in the abstract sense. He loved Canadians."

Before a room full of politicians — many of whom were taking shots at each other just this week in the House of Commons — Trudeau cited his predecessor's own words.

"As he put it himself, leaders must have vision and they must find the courage to fight for the policies that will give that vision life," Trudeau said.

"Leaders must govern not for easy headlines in 10 days but for a better Canada in 10 years."
Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky placed his hand on the casket before launching into his remarks.

"We've had so many wonderful speakers, you're going to figure out who's in politics and which guy is the hockey player real quick," he said to laughter.

Gretzky offered an anecdote about how Mulroney once told him that the Montreal Canadiens' 1993 Stanley Cup win was great for the country.

"I said, 'Sir, I was on the other team.' That wasn't so great for me," he said to loud laughter.

"We're such a proud country and I relate everything to hockey. And in politics, hockey, you fight, you battle, you drive," he said.

"I'm so proud to be a Canadian today, to see past prime ministers, the current prime minister. That's what our country is all about, coming together, being friendly, helping other people and paying respects."

In honour of the 18th prime minister, the church's bells rang 18 times and a 19-gun salute sounded through Old Montreal.

Alex Sima    3/24/2024


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