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Published March 18, 2024

Former prime minister Mulroney lying in state as dignitaries, VIPs pay tribute

By Sarah Ritchie

A solemn parade of dignitaries and well-wishers offered condolences Tuesday to the family of Brian Mulroney as the former prime minister began lying in state near Parliament Hill. 

An RCMP guard of honour gingerly delivered Mulroney's flag-shrouded casket to the ballroom at the Sir John A. Macdonald Building, where it will remain through Wednesday. 

Mulroney's family — his wife Mila and their children Caroline, Ben, Nick and Mark, along with Mark's wife Vanessa and Caroline’s husband Andrew Lapham — formed a receiving line and greeted people for hours. 

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and her husband Whit Fraser were the first to pay their respects, followed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

Dignitaries signed books of condolences as Mulroney's official portrait, framed by an elaborate display of flowers, loomed nearby. By mid-morning, additional books were rolled out into the lobby and pens were running out of ink. 

Mulroney, who was prime minister for nine years between 1984 and 1993, died Feb. 29 in a Florida hospital. 

Tributes poured in from around the world after his death. 

Ottawa resident Kim Ross made her way to Wellington Street early to secure a place in line to pay her respects, and was surprised to find she was among the very first to arrive. 

"I think he was a visionary in a lot of ways," Ross said, referencing Mulroney's efforts to secure a treaty to control acid rain pollution. 

About two dozen people braved the damp March cold for nearly two hours before they were allowed inside.

Joining the short lineup at midday were Peter MacArthur and Bob Peck, both former diplomats who said Mulroney had a knack for finding consensus with his opponents. 

"I think that's something that's very sadly lacking in Canadian public life today," Peck said, adding that he felt emotional to be paying his respects to a great man.

"Politicians in the '80s, particularly Brian Mulroney, had ambitious vision," MacArthur said. 

"They wanted to achieve things, and they had an agenda. Today there's too much disruptive division instead of vision."

Mulroney's vision included the controversial introduction of the GST, spearheading an international effort to end apartheid in South Africa, signing a free trade deal with the United States and pushing to bring Quebec into the constitution. 

In more recent years he took on a role as a sort of elder statesman of Canadian public life, evident in the visibly warm conversations his family had Tuesday with current and former politicians of all partisan colours. 

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was visibly emotional as she embraced the family and paused in front of Mulroney's casket. She gave an impassioned speech Monday inside the House of Commons as part of a set of emotional tributes from party leaders. 

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and his wife Anaida also shared embraces with Mulroney's wife and children, as did many members of the Liberal cabinet. 

More than 900 people had filed through the ballroom by late Tuesday afternoon.

Inside, an honour guard stood sentry at each corner of the casket, their ranks — RCMP officers, Armed Forces members, Parliamentary Protective Services personnel — changing every 30 minutes. 

Atop the casket was a small black pillow displaying some of the honours Mulroney collected in life, including the Companion of the Order of Canada, the Grand Officer of the Ordre national du Québec and two jubilee medals from Queen Elizabeth II. 

People will also be able to pay their respects Wednesday in Ottawa, and at Montreal's St. Patrick's Basilica on Thursday and Friday.

A state funeral will be held Saturday morning at Notre-Dame Basilica with eulogies from Caroline Mulroney, Jean Charest and Wayne Gretzky.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2024.

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