David Orchard
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Ottawa Citizen, October 28, 1997

Ten Years After

by David Orchard

It's been ten years since the October 1987 midnight signature on the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

The loud promises of "jobs, jobs, jobs," of greater prosperity from increased trade, of better, richer social programmes, of unimpaired Canadian sovereignty, stand revealed as a fraud. Since entering the FTA Canada has experienced the longest period of sustained high unemployment and the worst social and economic conditions since the 1930s. 25% of Canada's
manufacturing base was wiped out in the first three years of the FTA triggering a recession and a decade of cutbacks, slashing of social programmes and deficit hysteria. The entire national infrastructure from medicare to broadcasting to railways is under siege. As the Economic Policy Institute of Washington in its recent review of the FTA concluded: "Canada has been mired in recession since shortly after entering into the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement... Canada is essentially being forced to dismantle its social safety net while increasing its unemployment rate. This lose-lose situation stems directly from Canada's decision to merge its economy with that of the United States and Mexico, which employ radically different social and economic systems."

Prior to the FTA Canada's unemployment rate was for years roughly equal to that of the U.S., sometimes lower; now it is twice the U.S. rate.

Even more critically, the very existence of the Canada-U.S. border grows more tenuous each day as we experience the increased Americanization of all aspects of Canadian life. Conferences call on Canada to adopt the U.S. dollar as the common currency for the North American free trade zone and the Wall Street Journal sternly lectures Mexico to do the same. CN, the great railroad that linked the nation together and pioneered both public
broadcasting (now the CBC) and the national airline (now Air Canada), was sacrificed on the altar of free trade. Sold for half its value, it is now 70% U.S.-owned and busy selling off parts of the rail network, built at public expense, to other U.S. companies -- all the lines of northern Manitoba, including the port of Churchill, plus two Saskatchewan lines, have been handed to Omnitrax of Denver. Chicago is replacing Montreal and Toronto as the national rail hub, cutting east-west links, turning them north-south. A wave of U.S. takeovers, from pulp and paper to advertising agencies, makes it increasingly impossible to "buy Canadian" in whole sectors of the economy -- depriving French and English speaking Canadians of national pride and a sense of country.

At the same time raw resources are being stripped out of the country as if there were no tomorrow. Canada's oil and gas are being poured in record volumes across the border for a fraction of their value (the royalties on petroleum from the Alberta tar sands range from 0-1%, for example) while the West has only 6-10 years of drillable oil left in the ground and, according to National Energy Board figures, within 15 years Canada's entire known
reserves of natural gas will be extinct at the current rate of extraction. Yet huge new pipeline proposals are underway, or being planned, which will dramatically increase the over 50% of Canada's natural gas already going south. (Under the FTA whatever proportion of any good the U.S. is taking before a shortage occurs it will continue to receive regardless of Canadian needs.)

Instead of getting out of the agreement they themselves (correctly) called "the Sale of Canada Act," the Liberals kept the FTA, ratified Brian Mulroney's NAFTA and now are quietly negotiating to extend NAFTA's investment section into a large new agreement called the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). All without any mandate from the public, indeed a mandate and a Red Book election promise -- to do just the opposite. (The new MAI proposes to replace the six month cancellation clause of NAFTA and the FTA with a 20 year lock-in period and "phaseout" all laws and regulations which are in "non-conformity" with NAFTA's investment chapter and the MAI. Restrictions on the foreign ownership of Canada's
media, books, farmland, the existence of the Canadian Wheat Board and medicare all fall in this category.)

John A. Macdonald derailed a move towards free trade with the U.S. in 1891, calling it "sheer insanity" which would have "as its inevitable result, annexation to the United States." In 1911, Robert Borden defeated another Liberal/U.S. free trade proposal calling it "the most momentous question ever submitted to the Canadian electorate."

More recently, John Diefenbaker urged Canadians to "take a clear stand in opposition to economic continentalism" and the "baneful effects of foreign ownership." John Turner described the FTA as the "largest sell-out of our sovereignty since we became a nation." Pierre Trudeau condemned it as a "monstrous swindle."

It is Brian Mulroney and his soulmate Jean Chretien (handing over the powers of the national government to the provinces, the economy to Washington) who are on the wrong side of Canadian history. Their actions can, and must, be reversed for Canada to regain its sovereignty and fulfill its destiny as a northern power marching to the beat of its own drum.

David Orchard is the author of The Fight for Canada - Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism and was runner-up to Joe Clark in the 1998 federal Progressive Conservative leadership contest. He farms in Borden, SK and can be reached at tel (306) 664-8443 or by e-mail at davidorchard@sasktel.net

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