Interview with Francois Martin, Montreal, Friday morning, July 16, 1993
Note: I interviewed Francois Martin several times over the years and at the bottom of these notes I have attached one of the stories I wrote about him for The Globe and Mail in 1990.
NB: These notes are a summary of the interview done for my book, On the Take: Crime, Corruption and Greed in the Mulroney Years, which was published in October 1994. Because it was such a key interview for the book, my research associate Rod Macdonell, a senior investigative reporter at the Montreal Gazette, accompanied me. Francois was nervous about being taped so we decided two of us should be there. Rod would be the main note-taker while I talked to Francois, but I took notes as well. We checked the information he gave us with many sources, including the people he mentioned – Joe Plaskett, Bonnie Brownlee and the rest. Not all of them returned our calls or responded but most did. Most of the following information appeared in On the Take and it has never been challenged.
My research material and interviews are all stored in the archives at York University; I donated them to the Nathanson Centre for the Study of Organized Crime and Corruption at Osgoode Hall Law School. But I was able to find a great deal of this information still stored in my computers. Here is the summary of the first set of notes we made after talking to Francois that morning in a three-hour interview. The explanatory note (next paragraph, below) was written at the time these notes were taken.
Rod took the notes and is typing them up in full. The following is just a list of topics raised and Martin’s comments in point form, based on Rod’s interview notes. I have pulled together comments made throughout this three-hour interview into the appropriate topics. Rod’s notes will be more extensive.
Martin was the Mulroneys’ chef for four years, from early in 1985 until he quit late in 1989. He had been working as a chef at the National Arts Centre where head chef Kurt Waldele arranged for him to be interviewed for the job at Sussex Drive. He competed and won. I interviewed him several years ago and have been in touch with him ever since. A few years ago he wrote a book about his time at Sussex Drive and was unable to find a publisher; Jacques Lanctot in Montreal (the former FLQ terrorist) told me he felt he could make the manuscript into something publishable but was unwilling to take it one because he feared losing his federal publishing grant.
Martin has had a number of well-received gallery showings of painting he did during and after his years at 24 Sussex. Many of the works were devastating portraits of life inside 24 Sussex Drive; La Diva Mila is the best known. Others were witty snapshots of political events in the houses – meetings, receptions and so on. His paintings have been praised by such people as Charles Hill, curator of the Canadian collection at the National Gallery and the head of the Art Bank. The galleries include Ufundi in Ottawa, ?? in Toronto and ?? in Montreal. The last Montreal exhibition closed a few weeks ago.
Today  he is living in Montreal, looking for work as a chef and continuing to paint.
24 Sussex – Mila said to Francois that there wasn’t a lot of stuff there when she got there and there wouldn’t be a lot when she left. She said the same about Harrington Lake.
Why did she do an inventory? Because of the [April 1987] story about Giovanni [Mowinckel, the interior designer who worked on the official residences, work that was partly paid for by the PC Canada Fund]. She heard the story was coming and she was screaming around the house and saying she was going to kill him. She was up till 3 a.m. the night before the story ran. She couldn’t sleep.
Mila’s insomnia – She got a prescription from her father [a Westmount psychiatrist] for sleeping pills.
The Lemieux painting – [a painting by Quebec painter, Jean-Paul Lemieux who died in 1990] Francois loved it and told her [Mila Mulroney that] he wanted to buy it; she said he couldn’t because he didn’t have the money. She said she owned it, that Brian had bought it for her a long time ago for $17,000.
Why is she saying this? “Because Mila wants everything.” Bonnie [Brownlee, Mila Mulroney’s assistant] told him it was Jean-Paul Lemieux’s and the painter wanted it back. Bonnie called Lemieux to try to placate him. Francois painted a copy of the painting in his own picture, La Nouvelle Cuisine Quebecoise-Constitution, a scene of Mulroney, Lucien Bouchard, Robert Bourassa and Jacques Parizeau sitting around the dining room table at 24 Sussex. Behind them, on the wall, is the Lemieux painting, Le Refectoire.
Shopping – Mrs. Sauve [former Governor-General Jeanne Sauve] went shopping with her [Mila Mulroney] to Serge et Real’s – the store where both women bought a lot of clothes in Montreal.
Cash for shopping – I’d go to [Fred] Doucet’s office in the PMO about once a week and pick up an envelope with cash, about $10,000 or $11,000 each time. We’d get money before a shopping trip to New York as well – it usually cost about $15,000 for three days and she’d stay at the Pierre. There was no reference to the money, we’d just chitchat. It was in a brown envelope, letter-size, unsealed. It was in $1,000 bills, and it may have been in hundreds as well. Sometimes late at night she’d [Mila Mulroney] call me and give me $8,000 to $10,000 in cash and ask me to put it in the bank. I was nervous because I had to take it home overnight. I put it in the big bank on Sparks Street, the one with the big pillars on the north
side [the Bank of Montreal]. Cash came in like it was falling from the sky.
Derek McSweeney, the chauffeur and Mike McSweeney’s brother, would go to get the money sometimes. He [Derek McSweeney]often had disagreements and quit three or four times during the time Francois was there. He [Francois] stopped picking up the cash when Doucet left.
The Plaskett portrait. [A portrait of Mila Mulroney painted by Canadian artist Joe Plaskett in Paris and mentioned to SC by Mordecai Richler; Plaskett had a great deal of trouble getting paid for it and finally Helen Vari paid him.]
She got it. [the Plaskett portrait] She brought it home and unrolled it and asked me what kind of frame should it go in. Mrs. [Helen] Vari is the one who introduced her to Plaskett. the Varis have a house in Nice and Francois spent a short holiday there once.
Helen Vari used to come with big suitcases full of dresses and suits for Mila; I’d take them up to her bedroom. She’d bring 20 dresses at a time. How many in all? Maybe 200.
Jewellery. One time she received a big brooch as a gift from a head of state. Can’t remember the name, I think its starts with H. Maybe Hussein? She had Lou Goldberg [the jeweller she uses in Montreal] melt it down for her because it was too big to wear; he made her a ring and earrings and something else. This same head of state also gave her a baby grand piano.
Gifts for heads of state. Mila often bought gifts for visiting heads of state [under the rules, she is allowed to spend up to $1,000 each for a gift for a foreign dignitary]. Often she would buy three or four items, give the visitor one and keep or give away the others. [This story can be supported by xxxxxxxx, who sold gifts for foreign dignitaries to Mila.]
Senneville property? I think she bought property in Senneville. She told me she did.
Booze. Francois would order and pay for cartons of wine and liquor; she would send these to her relatives.
Ross Johnston: [former CEO of Nabisco; led unsuccesful leveraged buyout effort for the company in 1987, a saga that was the subject of the bestseller, Barbarians at the Gate]
Packages from Nabisco arrived all the time – big boxes of food and stuff.
Shopping: There was a discussion about Robby McRobb [ran errands for the Mulroneys] who had a friend inside customs. A company would be billed for all the costs of a package – customs, shipping etc … What was she bringing in? Wine, clothes, shoes. Things like that. Robby would fix the bills. Robby wanted a green card and the Mulroneys were supposed to help him get one; they played with that. They had to find a way to escape my story on how they got through customs without much checking so they came up with a method of shipping goods.
China: She [MIla Mulroney] bought the blue and white china (she tried to sell to the government in 1993) through the National Arts centre; it was paid for by the PMO as a bill for waiters or food. It’s a Fitz and Floyd pattern, not fancy [Starburst, according to NCC]. CHECK CHINA PATTERN with Allan Stark at Ashley’s; he knows all patterns, xxxxxxx says. They bought enough to give Bernard and Madeleine Roy a service for 12; they gave them half at Christmas and the other half on a birthday. They kept the Roy china hidden in the chef’s office in the basement.
Bobby Orr: He came to Harrington [Harrington Lake, PM’s summer residence] one time as a guest; he came in his own camper van, a big one like a Winnebago. They put him in the guest cottage which was full of mice; he left the next day.
Ivana Pivnicki: [Mila Mulroney’s sister] I think Ivana was jealous of Mila. Mila met Brian at Expo 67 where she was a hostess [I can’t believe this – she would have been too young; Sawatsky says it was the tennis club in 1972 when she was 19; better check this…] Mila got Ivana a job at Expo 87 in Vancouver so she could find a husband. Mila frequently sent Robby McRobb to Ivana’s apartment in Toronto to help her paint it or do odd jobs. Mila was trying to get a job for her sister every two months. Ivana was always changing jobs.
Mulroney: Drank Nyquil every night. A lot. A bottle every night? The butler was always saying, ‘we’re out of Nyquil again.’
Coats: Brian and Mila had a major argument once abaout her wearing a fur coat. She wanted to wear a fur coat but Barbara Bush was wearing a cloth coat. Mulroney wanted her to wear a cloth coat and they had a fight about it. Did they fight a lot? Yes. He is quiet – she’s a screamer.
Bonnie Brownlee: Had two fur coats. She was a little Mila. Her place was like a museum and cluttered with antiques. One time Mila had a wedding shower for Bonnie – she said she should invite wealthy people to get good presents. So they invited Mrs. Desmarais and Mrs. Vari. They came. Francois also catered Bonnie’s wedding to Bill Fox at 24 Sussex – Bonnie wasn’t happy about this – she would have liked to control her own wedding. [Bonnie Brownlee confirmed this to me in an interview in 1994.] They also wanted to set Bonnie up with a career as a TV reporter like Pamela Wallin.
Palm Beach: Every vacation or parliamentary break they went to Palm Beach and they almost always stayed at Moses Deitcher’s house there. One time the house was unavailable and Robby McRobb went down a week ahead to get another place ready. One time they invited Francois to come as a holiday but when he got there he found he was supposed to cook. Francois stayed at a motel nearby where Bill Pristanski knew the owner. Mulroneys received many people ther
e and they always took a butler and nanny who flew in a separate plane so they wouldn’t be on the flight manifest.
Safe: 24 Sussex has a safe behind a picture in the front hall, on the way to the den. They installed a big safe, like a refrigerator, in Francois’ basement office. Rick Morgan would come and put money in the safe; he brought it in an attache case and took it out – usually a brown letter size envelope about an inch thick. Rick would remove it as well. He knew the combination of the safe. He also saw Mulroney take some. This basement office was where “we hid the dishes” [the Roy china]; they also kept leather photo albums, put together on a monthly basis.
Plastic surgery: While he was there Mila had a lot of cosmetic surgery done. Her legs – although he doesn’t know if this was vein or liposuction works. He says she had her breasts enlarged. She said to me “Brian likes that – I showed him last night.”
Vistors: Who came most often to Sussex Drive? What about media? Bernard Derome [Quebec broadcaster] came often. Derome once came into Francois’ shop in St. Adele [Martin had a catering busines and food shop in Ste Adele, in the Laurentians, for a short while] and when he saw him in there and the painting on the wall, Derome stared, turned and walked out. Jeff Simpson [colunist for the Gloeb and Mail] was there a lot. Non-media guests included [Michel] Cogger (frequently), [Jean] Bazin, [Guy] Charbonneau (often for business lunches and social dinners), Don Matthews, Charles Bronfman, Hartland ? Price, ? Henderson, Joe Stewart (not frequent but often enough), Winser, Lortie.
Staff: There were a lot of Filippinos – they wanted their citizenships. And Cathy Auchleck – she came as a nanny for Nicholas and wound up going through law school while living with them. They paid. She is now their lawyer. The staff was resentful that she went from being a staff member to a guest.
920440230 THU FEB.13,1992 PAGE: C3
CLASS: The Arts
DATELINE: WORDS: 635
** NOISES OFF **
** The Cook, The Chief, His Wife and Her Painter **
F RANCOIS Martin,*chef*for Brian and Mila Mulroney from 1985 to 1989,
made quite a stir in Ottawa in 1990 when he displayed paintings of his
former employer lounging in her bed or issuing orders from the top of the
staircase at 24 Sussex Drive.
Now Martin, who enthusiasts describe as a natural talent, has found a
Toronto dealer – David Johnson of the Young Fox Gallery – and is showing
off more of his peinture a clef on Queen Street East.
Among the small selection is Royal Icing, a happy wedding scene with a
self-portrait of the*chef*in the background. The painting refers to the
marriage of lobbyist Fred Doucet, a Mulroney crony. The wedding was held
at 24 Sussex, and Martin, whose salary was paid by the federal government,
says he baked the cake and did the catering. Fleur de Peau shows Mila and
Brian unwrapping a landscape, a painting of Harrington Lake that Martin
gave them as a gift. Xmas Wrapping Looking for a Gift shows a massive
gift-wrapping session on the dining room table at 24 Sussex. Martin says
the Mulroneys would rewrap gifts they had received and didn’t like, so
they could pass them on to others.
Martin now runs a catering business in the Laurentians and paints part-
time. He says he has more tales to tell of life at 24 Sussex, but still
can’t find a publisher for his autobiography.
GLOBE AND MAIL – DOCUMENT 2 – Page 1 of 2
901520116 FRI JUN.01,1990 PAGE: A6
DATELINE: WORDS: 314
** What’s cooking at 24 Sussex? **
So what’s on the menu at 24 Sussex Drive this weekend? Roast Prime
Minister a la Meech? Premier Salad with One-Island dressing? Warmed-over
compromise (best before June 23)? The cut of a thousand beefs? Buttered
first ministers? Carrots on a stick? Boneless chicken or unrepentant
Yesterday it was*Chef’s*Surprise, a 300-page offering whipped up by
*Francois*Martin,*who was*chef*at the Prime Minister’s residence from
January, 1985, to May, 1989. Now that it has simmered for a year, it has
been served up to a dozen Quebec publishers, none of whom show any sign of
salivation. Gastro-politics does not seem to tickle their palates, so Mr.
Martin has taken his memoirs on the road, hoping Ontario will show more
Throughout history, the servants’ quarters and the kitchen have proved
to be a notoriously leaky part of the domestic scene for celebrities.
Buckingham Palace, a short coach ride from the very heart of chequebook
journalism, has from time to time reacted with stiff dismay to revelations
that sprang from the packed and palpitating diaries of departing staff.
In Ottawa, the Prime Minister’s Office is no more amused than Queen
Victoria might have been. Denials have been issued – dealing, among other
things, with Mr. Martin’s account of food boxes, prepared and dispatched
at Mrs. Mulroney’s behest to her relatives. The*chef*is sticking to his
guns but, in any case, there does not seem to be anything dreadfully
scandalous here. One might be surprised to learn that the*chef*at 24
Sussex Drive would sometimes work from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. without overtime.
Our thoughtless prime minister, we learn, would also occasionally bring
several people home for lunch without letting him know they were coming.
Or how they spelled their names.
The wonder is that Mr. Martin was not overwhelmed by fatigue. Or
GLOBE AND MAIL – DOCUMENT 3 – Page 1 of 8
901510041 THU MAY.31,1990 PAGE: A1 (ILLUS)
BYLINE: STEVIE CAMERON
DATELINE: Montreal PQ WORDS: 1620
***Chef*gives glimpse of life **
** inside 24 Sussex Drive **
BY STEVIE CAMERON
The Globe and Mail
Most of the time, when a staff member leaves a Canadian politician’s
household the leave-taking is discreet in the extreme and there is no
One of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney ‘s employees chose a different
way to leave, a sort of cook-and-tell.
The Prime Minister’s Office is not amused.
*Francois*Martin,*who was*chef*at 24 Sussex Dr. from January, 1985,
until May, 1989, spent last fall writing a 300-page history of the
upstairs-downstairs life in the Prime Minister’s residence, a history he
reconstructed from his own records, menus and guest lists.
The manuscript offers a look at life at 24 Sussex, one in which the
staff call the Mulroneys simply “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and in which Brian
Mulroney is almost a minor figure.
“He’s quiet,” explained Mr. Martin in an interview. “And he is always
going on diets. But when he gets upset about something on the news at
night, he’ll come into the kitchen for something like cookies and Mrs.
tries to talk him out of it.”
Mr. Martin has taken the manuscript to a dozen publishers in Quebec; so
far all of them have turned him down. Ontario publishers are now looking
The manuscript is not about the political crises of the government, but
of day-to-day domestic life, enlivened by the parade of important visitors
for whom the*chef*created extravagant dishes.
But his tale of life at 24 Sussex has caused prime ministerial staff to
denounce him as untruthful.
According to Mr. Martin, for example, Mila Mulroney asked him to
prepare and send monthly care packages of food, cases of wines, regular
deliveries of fresh flowers, and even cleaning supplies to her relatives.
The PMO has emphatically denied his recollections, saying that Mr.
Mulroney is the first Canadian prime minister to pay for his own food.
Although Mr. Martin did all the grocery shopping, charging most of the
food on accounts at both wholesalers and small specialty shops, he said he
did not know who paid the bills because they all went to the PMO, usually
to Mrs. Mulroney’s assistant, Bonnie Brownlee.
Mr. Martin said Mrs. Mulroney asked him every month to pack boxes of
food – including hot meals such as veal scaloppine packed in thermal
containers – as well as staple goods and cleaning supplies for her
parents, Dmitri and Bogdana Pivnicki in Montreal, and less frequently for
her sister Ivana Pivnicki in Toronto. Raiding his bulk supplies, he said
he would tuck such items as bottles of Windex and cans of Ajax in among
He said he often delivered the boxes himself. He was also asked to send
cases of wine and spirits to the Pivnickis and would arrange for bouquets
of fresh flowers from the Rideau Hall greenhouses to go to Montreal.
Gilbert Lavoie, the Prime Minister’s press secretary, says Mr. Martin’s
stories are untrue.
“The stories of the shipment of food, wine and flowers are false,” Mr.
Lavoie said. “When her mother visits her, all Mrs. Mulroney does is give
her the usual care packages anyone would give.” Mr. Lavoie added that the
Mulroneys paid for their own groceries.
In 1984, Mr. Mulroney said he would pay for his family’s groceries at
24 Sussex, and his office later announced that he had sent a $4,000 cheque
to Revenue Canada in 1985 to cover food costs for six months.
“When you pay your own bills,” Mr. Lavoie said, “you can do what you
want with the food, the wines, the flowers.”
He said he had no receipts or proof that the Mulroneys paid these
bills, and had no idea how much money they have spent on food. “I don’t
have figures in front of me. It is his private life.”
Mr. Lavoie also objected, he said, to “asking us to prove negatives for
matters that go back in time. I don’t have a week to search for documents
that I don’t think are needed.”
Two years ago, Mr. Martin said, he spent two weeks cooking food for
Mrs. Mulroney’s brother’s wedding after the Pivnicki family decided a
$10,000 catering estimate from exclusive Montreal caterer Roger Colas was
Mr. Martin also baked and decorated a four-layer wedding cake for Jovan
Pivnicki and his bride, Manuela Suares.
Mr. Martin, 28, a native of Maniwaki, Que., is a graduate of Quebec’s
highly regarded hotel school, L’Institut de tourisme et d’hotellerie de
Quebec, in Montreal. After working at two Ottawa restaurants, he moved to
the National Arts Centre for a year. He competed against 11 other chefs
for the job at 24 Sussex, and at first after he joined the staff on Jan.
28, 1985, at a salary of $28,000 a year, he loved it.
“It was exciting,” he recalled. “Everything was fun and within two
weeks I saw that I was making a difference. And my parents were so proud
There were the state dinners for President George Bush in Ottawa, the
Queen in Quebec City and the Prince and Princess of Wales in Vancouver,
when he was able to create splendid dinners that won him raves. There was
the luncheon to honor Canadian fashion designers, for which he created
little soup crackers shaped like scissors and named each dish, such as
crepes de chine, for a fabric or a design.
By the time Mr. Martin left, his salary had gone up to $41,000.
(According to a federal cabinet order-in-council, passed May 17, the new
*chef,*John LeBlanc, earns between $51,000 and $53,000.)
Life at 24 Sussex was so glamorous that at first Mr. Martin accepted
the long hours and the fact that, as he said, “I had no life of my own.”
He said he worked from 7 a.m., when he arrived to prepare the children’s
breakfast, until 12 or 1 a.m. six to seven days a week without overtime
But he did start to complain about thoughtlessness. The Prime Minister,
he said, often would bring several people home for lunch without notice.
“The first I’d hear was when the RCMP would phone me as they came in
the gates. When I said something, Mrs. said, ‘Francois, you have to be
One of Mr. Martin’s frequent chores, he said, was to drive to Montreal
to pick up clothes and jewelry from various stores for Mrs. Mulroney. He
never paid for anything, he said; bills were managed by Ms Brownlee.
Using charge accounts, Mr. Martin did all the grocery shopping for the
prime ministerial home, buying from whole
sale suppliers as well as from
specialists in Ottawa’s Byward Market. A constant irritant, however, was
the increasing demand made on his $250 petty cash float.
“Mrs. Mulroney used to ask me to pay for things like lamps or things
for the house out of the kitchen petty cash,” he said, “so I had to have
the float increased to $1,500.”
One of the reasons Mr. Martin took the job was the promise of travel,
but there were few trips. Although the Mulroneys usually stay in a Florida
villa, with the use of a Bentley belonging to their Montreal friend Moses
Deitcher, Mr. Martin said he only went twice.
One of the busiest years at 24 Sussex, said Mr. Martin, was 1987, when
the Mulroneys entertained PC party faithful to prepare for the 1988
election. “For VIP summer parties, everything was the best: little
brochettes of lamb, little homemade lobster spring rolls. When they had
the press party, the food was simpler – corn on the cob, stuff like that.”
But of all the special jobs he did for the Mulroneys, Mr. Martin best
remembers Jovan Pivnicki’s wedding in September, 1988.
He delivered one van load of soft drinks, soda, serving dishes, pots
and pans and other supplies to Mrs. Pivnicki’s garage in Montreal a week
before the wedding and another load to the hall the day before. He said he
spent two weeks preparing food for a cocktail reception for 180 guests,
creating canapes such as Chinese dumplings and baby spring rolls.
Mr. Martin said he worked through the night before the ceremony with
the florist and staff from 24 Sussex, setting up the tables, preparing the
food, washing the floor, swathing the wedding cake in tulle.
“I finished at 2 a.m., drove back to Ottawa, loaded the van up with all
the food, silver trays, chafing dishes, a deep fryer. Then I drove it back
the next morning.”
According to Mr. Martin, the National Arts Centre sent orange juice and
Perrier as well as waiters, a*chef*and their banquet manager to help. “The
NAC sent Mrs. a bill for $1,300,” Mr. Martin said. “And Mrs. brought all
As far as the Pivnicki wedding was concerned, Mr. Lavoie said, the
families paid for all of it, including the food. “The*chef*works out of
the house for the family. It doesn’t matter if he works one day on a
Mr. Martin said it was not long after the wedding that he decided it
was time to leave. One reason was that two months earlier a new household
co-ordinator had been hired at a high salary, he said, to supervise the
staff, a job Mr. Martin had been doing in addition to his*chef’s*job. Mr.
Martin said Ms Brownlee advised him a lawyer might be able to help him get
a fair severance, so he hired one and left with an $11,000 settlement.
“Mrs. was very upset. You don’t leave THEM. She even offered to get me
financial backing for a new restaurant of my own. But I had had it.”
GLOBE AND MAIL – DOCUMENT 4 – Page 1 of 2
850790253 WED MAR.20,1985 PAGE: P4
DATELINE: WORDS: 210
** Mulroneys’ non-nanny **
** quits controversial job **
From the Ottawa Bureau
of The Globe and Mail
The nanny at 24 Sussex Drive has left her position, although Prime
Minister Brian Mulroney’s aides say there was never a nanny there.
Elizabeth MacDonald was first described by the Prime Minister’s Office
as a nanny.
A clarification was issued quickly, however, because of the tricky
matter of the Prime Minister’s election promise that taxpayers would never
pay for his family’s nanny, as they did for former prime minister Pierre
Mr. Mulroney’s aide Fred Doucet called Miss MacDonald one of several
staff members who ”interface with the children.”
Mila Mulroney preferred last fall to describe Miss MacDonald’s $17,000-
a-year job as that of maid and ”mother’s helper.” Mrs. Mulroney, who is
expecting her fourth child, insisted she would never hire a nanny because
she prefers to raise her children herself.
Press aide William Fox stressed again yesterday that Miss MacDonald
”was never a nanny” and said she is leaving to return to school.
Two other positions at the Prime Minister’s residence have been filled,
according to the most recently published weekly list of orders-in-council.
Albert McRobb, a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, has been
hired as household co-ordinator.*Francois*Martin*will be*chef.*