Categories: ideas

Brian Mulroney, Greenest PM

Corporate Knights honoured Brian Mulroney as the "Greenest PM in Canadian History" on April 20, 2006. His acceptance speech follows. View the video here.

Image Via flickr User Nara J

When I was very young, we went to the foot of Champlain Street, and swam in Baie Comeau, for which my hometown was named.

Today, there is a park where we used to swim. The effluence from the paper mill created landfill, where once there had been pristine waters. Nobody swims in the bay anymore.

And that's where my awareness of the environment, and of environmental degradation, began. We've seen too many such sights in this country including company towns carved out of the wilderness, with little regard for the impact on their surroundings. In fairness, it should be noted that in those days few of us knew any better, Now we do.

We need to learn those lessons of careless development, and of neglecting to clean up after ourselves. We need to learn it especially in the North. The future of this country is going North, and it is time for a new Northern Vision, one of sustainable development that preserves the Arctic wilderness, protects wildlife and sustains a way of life for our indigenous peoples.

In Baie Comeau, I once said: "My father dreamed of a better life for his family. I dream of a better life for my country." Part of that dream was about leaving a more prosperous and united country to our children, but a large part of it was also about leaving our munificent country environmentally whole.

This award by a group of environment leaders, as Canada's Greenest Prime Minister in history, is deeply gratifying. I thank the panel and accept not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of all who served in our government between 1984 and 1993.

I was extremely fortunate in having some outstanding environment ministers including Tom McMillan, Lucien Bouchard, Robert de Cotret and Jean Charest. I thank them all for their diligence and devotion on behalf of the environment, and gratefully acknowledge their leadership. I also want to thank the dedicated public servants, such as Bob Slater on behalf of others too numerous to mention, without whom we would probably not have had an acid rain accord. I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of an absent friend, the late Arthur Campeau, Canada's first Ambassador for the Environment, who was a persuasive and effective advocate of Canada signing the Bio Diversity Accord at Rio.

Under Tom McMillan, we negotiated the Montreal Protocol in 1987, which redressed depletion of the ozone layer; in 1988 we were the first western government to endorse the recommendations of the Brundtland Commission and the first to embrace the language of "sustainable development."

Lucien Bouchard was the first Environment Minister to serve on the influential Planning and Priorities committee of Cabinet and under his strong direction Canada devised the Green Plan with compulsory environmental review of all government initiatives. This plan was described by Dr. Mostafa Tolba, Director of the United Nations Environment Program as " a model for the world".

Under Robert de Cotret, the Green Plan became the standard for environmental policy and we completed the work that began the day we took office when we signed the Acid Rain Accord with the United States in 1991.

Under Jean Charest's inspired leadership, at the Rio Conference in 1992, we helped bring the United States on board in support of the Convention on Climate Change, and we were the first industrialized nation to sign on to the Bio-Diversity Accord. Canada's international identity was strongly affirmed as a result of the brilliant contribution of Jean Charest at this seminal conference.

We established eight new national parks, including South Moresby in British Columbia, and under the Green Plan put Canada on a path to create five more by 1996 and another 13 by 2000, bringing the national parks system begun by Sir John A. Macdonald, with the creation of Banff National Park in 1885, closer to completion.

We began the long overdue clean-up of the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence and Fraser rivers, and we launched an Arctic Strategy seeking to protect our greatest and most fragile wilderness area-the North. And we created the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, recognizing that sustainable development requires the participation and leadership of the private sector.