Colleagues of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who since shifted to the business world are remembering the “critically important” impact he had on the Canadian economy. 

A spokesperson for Caroline Mulroney, Brian’s daughter, said Brian was hospitalized after a fall at his home in Pam Beach, Fla. He passed away Thursday evening, surrounded by his wife Mila and four kids: Caroline, Ben, Mark and Nicolas.

John Manley, a former finance minister and former deputy prime minister who is now chair of Jefferies Securities and a senior advisor at Bennett Jones, specifically highlighted Mulroney’s work in the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement and the Government Sales Tax (GST).

“These are critically important and long-lasting structural changes that he took on a great political risk for the benefit to Canada,” Manley told BNN Bloomberg in a television interview on Friday.

Manley, a Liberal, was a member of the opposition party from 1988 until the end of Mulroney’s tenure and said his party was against the GST, but now understands its value, despite the frustrations many Canadians still have with it.

“It gave us a base level of revenue that didn't fluctuate the way income tax revenues do,” he said. “When the economy moves into a downturn, corporate taxes fall, personal income taxes fall on employment benefits rise and so the government really had tightening noose around its neck. The GST provided that base level of revenue that enabled us in good times to pay down our debt … and then at bad times, to just make sure that you kept the government functioning well.”

Manley said once the Liberals took power in 1993, they made some tweaks to the tax, but quickly understood the policy was sound.

“I don't expect any future government will ever want to reduce it again or certainly not to get rid of it,” he said. “It's just too important to managing our public finances.”

Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce who was a Conservative MP under Mulroney, said Mulroney was not in favour of a free trade agreement initially, but was convinced that Canada could compete with the U.S. and changed his mind.

“He decided to take it to Canadians and to make the case that this would be in Canada's interest that we could compete and that this represented not a threat to Canada, but an opportunity,” Beatty said.

“There were always 1,000 reasons why it couldn't be done. all of the impediments that were in the way and ultimately, what it did was it took (Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan) saying to their officials: Don't tell me why this can't be done, tell me how you're going to do it.’”

Frank McKenna, former premier of New Brunswick and former Canadian ambassador to the United States who now serves as deputy chair of wholesale at TD Bank, remembers how Mulroney conducted operations on the backs of strong relationships.

“He had a very respectful relationship with the Americans and what I found being in the United States, that at the end of the day, there were all kinds of issues, some big, some small, but you could deal with almost all of them on the basis of goodwill if you had a good relationship,” he said.

McKenna said Mulroney used his strong relationship with the U.S. – particularly with Reagan – to get the free trade agreement finalized.

“Essentially, when we got down to some of the very final sticking points, he prevailed on his friend Ronald Reagan, who went out and told James Baker: ‘Look, you’ve got to get this done for Brian,’” he said. “We don't see that as much anymore.”

“He was a master of using that good old Irish goodwill in order to get things done.”

Sheila Copps, a former deputy prime minister, who was a member of the Liberal party in the House of Commons for the entirety of Mulroney’s tenure as prime minister, remembered how Mulroney never made things personal, even as the parliamentary arguments intensified.  

“He was just a very special human being, apart from the political stuff, which was also incredible,” she told BNN Bloomberg on Thursday. “When you look at his record and you look back at it, the things that he did accomplish for the economy, but also for apartheid are pretty amazing.”

With files from