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From Memoirs by Brian Mulroney, Douglas Gibson Books, First Edition (September 10, 2007), Chapter 3

“In early December 1956, Paul Creaghan and I took the thirty-six-hour train ride from Antigonish to Montreal...”

After my first year at StFX, I returned home in the summer of 1956 and found a job in the giant construction project for Canadian British Aluminium on a new site (St-Georges) somewhat removed from the original Baie-Comeau townsite. I began as a straight labourer, cleaning debris, carrying cases of supplies, and so on, until one day I was pleased to be assigned to driver status. My principal responsibility was to drive a large company station wagon to pick up project directors, deliver them to various sites at the break of day, shuttle them about as required during the shift, and return them home at night. During the day, I would occasionally spell drivers on the larger tonnage trucks – a real challenge – and I spent a full four months working hard and learning a lot about construction work, its burdens, trials, skills, and rewards.

That summer I took up with a smashing girl with whom I had gone to elementary school a dozen years earlier. Mary McGrath had blossomed during her years of secretarial training in Montreal, and I was only one of many young swains who hovered about any time she appeared in public. Somehow I prevailed, and Mary and I became an item. No one ever was prouder to squire such a striking and intelligent young woman around town, and I returned to StFX determined to do well and return home at Christmas to an appreciative girlfriend. After the holidays, however, I think Mary simply decided the wait would be too long – three more years of university and four of law school. Eventually she went off to Denver, Colorado, where she married a university hockey star from Saskatchewan, who later developed a prosperous construction company in Halifax.

I was then seventeen – becoming progressively convinced that any hopes of obtaining heartthrob status were doomed. I was getting taller but not heavier, still bearing the nickname “Bones,” yet still enjoying life at StFX, developing great friendships on campus, and acquiring a deep and growing interest in public policy and politics. By the autumn of 1956, I was secretary of the campus PC Club, just as the national party was gearing up to convene a leadership convention to choose a successor to George Drew, who had resigned because of ill health. The candidates were John Diefenbaker, Donald Fleming, and E. Davie Fulton, and each campus club was eligible to send two delegates to the December convention in Ottawa. We met and I was elected as one of our representatives.

Soon the campaigning began, and one day the president of the National Youth for Diefenbaker Committee descended upon little Antigonish. His name was Ted Rogers, and he was a dynamic law student at the University of Toronto. We could see at once that Ted was a true force of nature. He later became one of Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs, building a vast communications empire in the process. Having witnessed his skills first-hand years earlier, I was not surprised. So enthusiastic was Ted about Diefenbaker and so captivating was his presentation that I signed up on the spot, and Ted promptly named me vice-chairman, Atlantic Region. I took this tribute to my organizing skill and talent with the requisite aplomb; I did not flinch publicly upon learning later that my principal qualification for the job was the complete unavailability of anyone else.

In early December 1956, Paul Creaghan and I took the thirty-six-hour train ride from Antigonish to Montreal (where we stayed overnight with Paul’s relatives). Then it was on to Ottawa, where we were billeted with the wonderful McDonald family, on Echo Drive. Joe McDonald, a friend from StFX, had kindly arranged our stay (for free, of course, our travel stipend being next to nothing and our wallets almost empty). His parents were warm and kind and friendly. They were also prominent Liberals, whose home overlooking the canal briefly sheltered two ambitious Conservatives.

It was my first time in Ottawa, and at first I wandered about the nation’s capital in a dream, taking in the sights. But soon convention duty called. Any doubt about what career I would eventually choose was eliminated at that convention, although Ted Rogers and his tall, imposing deputy, Hal Jackman, were hard taskmasters. My dreams of glory collapsed when Ted informed me that my area of responsibility was posters. “What happens when I get all the Diefenbaker posters up?” I asked Ted, who replied, “You put up more. I want this town swamped in Diefenbaker posters, morning, noon, and night.” And so, from early morning to late at night, my little team and I vigorously executed this command, though it was cold and occasionally snowing in Ottawa that December.

The excitement of the convention hall itself was intoxicating, and to my delight I discovered that any delegate could wander at will anywhere throughout the event. It was as a result of this exercise in democracy that I awoke one morning to hear Mrs. McDonald yell, “Brian, get up right away, you’re on the front page of the Journal with [Ottawa Mayor] Charlotte Whitton!” And indeed I was. Over breakfast I snuck glances at the picture, not wanting others to notice how starstruck I was. I knew it was all right to enjoy such fame but not all right to make others uneasy by blowing it out of proportion. Still, to be on the front page of the paper – and at a national Tory convention!

Later that day, along with members of his youth executive committee, I met Mr. Diefenbaker. I was thunderstruck when he referred to me as “Brian” and thanked me for my “great help.” Only when he referred to the importance of posters to a successful campaign did I see the fine hand of Ted Rogers in the compliment, which I nonetheless accepted with enthusiasm. Ted and I have remained fast friends for almost fifty years. While he built a media empire, he and his wife, Loretta, also nurtured a wonderful family. Years later Ted declined my offer of a Senate appointment, but his deputy at the 1956 convention, Hal Jackman, also a good friend, accepted the appointment as lieutenant governor of Ontario, and served admirably from 1991 to 1997.

I was there for the speeches and for the abrupt departure of the Quebec delegation after John Diefenbaker won. Convinced that Diefenbaker was somehow anti-Quebec and anti-French, the entire delegation, led by Quebec MP Léon Balcer, simply got up and left. It was my first experience with the self-destructive instinct of the PC Party, and I remember it troubled and embarrassed me greatly. How could we be providing our opponents with such ammunition? I was learning the importance of leadership in uniting and guiding a minority party to government, and realized that this kind of conduct must be avoided at all costs.

I left the convention exhilarated and I made a note in the Daytimer I then carried: “Voted today at convention. Diefenbaker elected on first ballot. Leave for Montreal tomorrow. Prediction for summer’s election: Conservatives 93 seats.”

(In the same Daytimer I also took time out to comment on that fall’s Grey Cup game. The Edmonton Eskimos had gone on to victory over the Montreal Alouettes, and I noted the stellar play of a quarterback I later worked with in national politics, particularly on the Meech Lake Accord. “Grey Cup game day in Toronto,” I wrote. “Als played poorly...Don Getty playing a great game, making excellent use of a superb ground attack.”)

Boarding the train I headed home for Christmas, thrilled by the whole Ottawa experience. I was confident the entire country would soon share my enthusiasm for this towering figure and passionate orator from Saskatchewan whose social policies and empathy for “ordinary Canadians” seemed to me to replicate the teachings of Dr. Coady and the Antigonish Movement so many years ago.