Windsor·Q and A

Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens on when he cold-called Brian Mulroney

Windsors mayor reflected on how Brian Mulroney influenced his political outlook.

Windsor's mayor paid tribute to the former prime minister, who died Feb. 29

Brian Mulroney standing in a stone archway.
Mayor Drew Dilkens met Brian Mulroney a number of times over his career. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Windsor's mayor Drew Dilkens was saddened to learn about the death of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who he had met personally in the 1990s. 

Mulroney, Canada's 18th prime minister, died peacefully surrounded by his family, his daughter Caroline Mulroney said Thursday. A family spokesperson said Mulroney died in a Palm Beach hospital, where he'd been since a recent fall.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau said planning is underway for a state funeral, a special public event reserved for eminent Canadians, including former prime ministers.

Mulroney was in charge when Dilkens was coming of age, and he reflected on what made Mulroney so captivating in his opinion. 

"I think the first thing that I really admired about him was his public speaking ability," Dilkens said. "He had that baritone voice, [and] was an excellent communicator."

Dilkens told CBC News about the encounters he experienced with Mulroney, and why he thinks the late prime minister was inspiring. 

This is part of that conversation with Windsor Morning's Amy Dodge.

Drew Dilkens: I was at a conference at the Royal York (hotel) in Toronto back in the early '90s with a group of other folks from Windsor and the conference was ending and we were gathering in the lobby to take a a minivan ride back to Windsor and one of the members came forward to the group and said I just saw Brian Mulroney walk into the hotel.

My ears perked up because I was a fan of Brian Mulroney, his policies and his prime ministership. I always thought he was a great orator and and someone who was persistent in the eyes of a lot of opposition to get what he wanted, including things like the (north American) free trade agreement. 

I innocently walked over to the hotel phone, I picked it up and the hotel operator answered. I said, 'Can I have Mr. Mulroney's room please?' And there was a few clicks on the keyboard and all of a sudden the phone was ringing. And a moment later, on the other end of the phone was the deep baritone voice of former prime minister Mulroney saying, 'Hello.'

Dilkens speaking at a podium.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens drew inspiration from Brian Mulroney's leadership. (Dalson Chen/CBC)

So gutsy. How did you get through? Was there no red tape, no loopholes?

There was no security, There was no apparatus around him. He was just a a private citizen in the world who happened to be in Toronto at the same hotel that I was at at the same time. The operator simply put the call through.

Then I just introduced myself and said, 'I'm really an admirer of your time in office and if there was an opportunity to meet you while you're at the hotel, I would certainly appreciate it. And he said, 'I'll be down in about 20 minutes. I'll meet you in the lobby.'

So I went back to the group and said you go, I'll take a standby flight back to Windsor. I grab my suitcase and pulled out the best clothes that I had with me at the time and put them on and put a tie on. And then 20 minutes later, Prime Minister Mulroney walked out of the elevator into the lobby and stood with me for 90 seconds, or two minutes, and had a brief conversation. We posed for a photo and he walked out of the hotel and I went to the airport to take a flight home because my crew had left."

I admired his perseverance, and I admired his deportment and the way he conducted himself.- Drew Dilkens

What was it about Brian Mulroney that attracted you to him?

When I became politically aware, he was the prime minister who was in office. I think the first thing that I really admired about him was his public speaking ability. He had that baritone voice, was an excellent communicator.

And then I remember at the time, as a young person in school, the whole conversation about acid rain and writing a letter to his office talking about acid rain and getting a response back.I felt so honoured just to receive a response from someone in his office at the time with naive and young eyes.

It was an interesting process, watching him manoeuvre through a very complex situation like the free trade agreement where you know it wasn't all roses and apple pie. There were strong opposition on the home front from labour unions and folks in the NDP. It was not an easy task, and it was not an easy task getting to the end with the United States on that front either.

I admired his perseverance, and I admired his deportment and the way he conducted himself. He was always very professional, but came across as passionate and caring for Canada.

Did Brian Mulroney live up to your expectations?

Yeah he did and I had an opportunity meet him after that at another time when I worked for the Canadian consulate in Detroit. He just was a gentleman. He really truly was a gentleman always professional [and I] rarely found him without a suit and tie on.

He's one of those old school politicians just trying to find pathways and in my mind always came across very professionally in public and again I always admired his public speaking ability.

Drew Dilkens' comments have been edited for length and clarity.


Oliver Thompson is a writer, producer and musician. Originally from the UK, where he worked for the BBC, Oliver moved to Canada in 2018.

With files from CBC News