The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency saw Brian Mulroney's new
government as a welcome alternative to the "gratuitous negative"
attitude of the often prickly Pierre Trudeau, declassified documents
The CIA cautiously assessed the "Boy from Baie Comeau" as a more
amiable ally than the occasionally irascible Trudeau in a September 1984
memo written three weeks after Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives
swept to power, ousting the long-entrenched Liberals.
The intelligence agency did not expect a wholesale shift from
Mulroney, but cautiously greeted his "conciliatory and constructive"
On East-West trade, relations with the Communist world and U.S.
involvement in Central America, the CIA believed the Tories would "steer
a pragmatic course," supporting Washington when in Canada's interest
and chastising it otherwise, says the memo.
"Unlike Trudeau, however, we expect Mulroney to refrain from
gratuitous negative comments about U.S. foreign policy and to remain
evasive or silent when it is politically possible to do so."
The Canadian Press obtained several CIA analyses of Mulroney's early
months in office through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Portions
of the records, quietly declassified by the agency in recent months,
Though Mulroney was widely seen as blatantly trying to cosy up to
Ronald Reagan's Republicans, — even singing "When Irish Eyes Are
Smiling" with the U.S. president in the spring of 1985 — the
intelligence agency looked beyond the photo ops in an attempt to divine
the prime minister's political intentions.
It also tried to characterize Mulroney's style based on his limited political dabbling to that point.
"As a politician, Mulroney — much like the most successful Canadian
prime minister, the Liberal Mackenzie King — can be best described as a
'trimmer,' ready to adjust to changing political winds and relatively
unconcerned with consistency in policies."
The CIA argued that although Mulroney's "winning personality" and
status as a son of Quebec were prime assets for the Tories, building an
effective political organization in the province would "not be easy."
Indeed, by the turn of the next decade, the Tories' grip on the province would fail following failed constitutional overtures.
The intelligence agency sized up the Mulroney government's likely
course of action on foreign investment, defence policy, energy strategy,
the environment and fisheries.
The level of scrutiny — despite the fact Canada was a close friend
and ally — is hardly surprising, said Sarah-Jane Corke, who teaches U.S.
intelligence history and foreign policy at Dalhousie University in
"It would have been completely normal for them to do this," she said.
"They would have studies like this on every country in the world, and
especially issues that reflect in any way their national security
A May 1985 CIA paper on the politics of Canadian defence policy
lambasted Trudeau's "deliberate neglect" of the military during his 16
years in office.
"In our opinion, Canadians generally think little about defence and
when they do, reject outright the idea of giving defence priority over
maintaining the social welfare system," says the brief.
"These attitudes made it easy for Trudeau to ignore defence, and will
make it very difficult for Mulroney to implement a more expensive and
efficient defence program."
The CIA concluded that Tory defence efforts for the foreseeable
future would be more rhetoric than substance — an accurate assessment in
many eyes given that promised budgetary and troop increases would
Still, the CIA perceived tangible, if subtle, shifts on foreign
policy in Nicaragua, where the U.S. staunchly opposed the socialist
The agency noted then-external affairs minister Joe Clark did not
send official observers to the Nicaraguan election of 1984 even though
the Liberals had indicated they probably would, and that he had resisted
pressure to open an embassy in Managua.
"Mulroney and Clark hope that such controversial decisions are viewed
in Washington as evidence that the Tories do not intend to take steps
that would enhance the legitimacy of the Sandinista government."
Despite its familiarity with Canadian politicians and their inclinations, the CIA's prognostications weren't always on target.
Early on, the agency felt Mulroney was giving environmental issues
short shrift, assigning the portfolio to a freshman MP. However, his
government went on to create several national parks, pass key
environmental legislation and ratify international treaties, winning him
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