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Mulroney casts long shadow in Harper circle

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Brian Mulroney is taboo.

The decision by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ban his government members from speaking to the former prime minister goes to the heart of the significance of yesterday's announcement.

Mr. Harper has been previously proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Mulroney, the former Conservative prime minister, declaring him “indispensable.”

At a lavish dinner in Ottawa last year, honouring Mr. Mulroney as Canada's “greenest prime minister,” Mr. Harper credited Mr. Mulroney with having worked behind the scenes to help broker the deal that led to the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party.

He also said Mr. Mulroney played a “private” but “indispensable” role as a friend and political confidant, joking that it's lonely being a Conservative leader and even lonelier as a Conservative prime minister.

But that all changed yesterday: And whether their separation becomes permanent now depends on the findings of the third-party probe.

During his dramatic news conference announcing he was appointing a fact finder to look into the dealings between Airbus lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber and Mr. Mulroney, Mr. Harper cautioned his cabinet ministers and others in government from speaking to Mr. Mulroney.

“I've not discussed this course of action with Mr. Mulroney,” he said after being asked whether he had consulted with the former prime minister. “And I think it will be incumbent upon myself and also upon members of the government not to have dealings with Mr. Mulroney until this issue is resolved.”

For some in the Harper government this will be difficult. Although Mr. Harper has not surrounded himself entirely with former Mulroney-ites, there are a few key people in his government with very long and strong ties to the former prime minister.

For example, Marjory LeBreton, Government Leader in the Senate, served in senior roles in the Mulroney PMO. The 67-year-old cabinet minister was appointed to the Senate by Mr. Mulroney in 1993, shortly before he retired. It is said that as a senator she is Mr. Mulroney's eyes and ears on Parliament Hill. The two speak almost daily.

And Peter MacKay, 42, the Defence Minister, and his father, Elmer, remain close to Mr. Mulroney. The senior Mr. MacKay served in the Mulroney cabinet; he also gave up his seat so that Mr. Mulroney could have a seat in the Commons when he was elected opposition leader. The elder Mr. MacKay has also been a supporter of Mr. Schreiber, acting as a surety for the businessman's bail applications.

Meanwhile, the younger Mr. MacKay, who served as the federal Progressive Conservative leader, is a friend of Mr. Mulroney, speaks to him regularly and is also close to the Mulroney boys, Ben and Mark.

As well, Mr. MacKay was supported in his leadership by Fred Doucet. Mr. Doucet is the adviser to the former prime minister who, Mr. Schreiber alleges in his affidavit, asked him to transfer funds to Mr. Mulroney's lawyer in Geneva, Switzerland. During Mr. MacKay's leadership bid in 2003, Mr. Doucet helped to broker a deal between Mr. MacKay and his opponent, David Orchard, in return for Mr. Orchard's support. The controversial deal specified that the free-trade agreement, which the Mulroney government fought an election over, would be reviewed by a blue-ribbon party committee. Mr. Orchard was against free trade.

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