Calgary Herald, Wednesday, July 21, 1993
Free-trade battle a lopsided affair
By Robert Bragg
Canada's great trade debate certainly isn't a fair
fight and maybe that says it all.
On one side: Almost all the forces of capital,
wealth, status and station in Canada stand united in
Opposed: Small, infinitely less rich, disunited bands
of Canadian nationalism and the likes of David Orchard.
At issue: Canada's economic future and, many suggest,
Canada's political and societal sovereignty.
Ostensibly they quarrel over mere pieces of paper —
the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and the North
America Free Trade Agreement.
The 1989 bilateral deal and the proposed 1994
extension to include Mexico pits Orchard's organization,
Citizens Concerned About Free Trade (CCAFT), against the
bodies such as the high powered Business Council on
National Issues (BCNI).
Beneath the acronyms and the acrimony, serious issues
are being debated in a lopsided contest that makes David
and Goliath seem like an even match.
The BCNI, for instance, describes itself as "composed
of the chief executive officers of 150 leading Canadian
corporations. With about 1.5 million employees, member
companies administer in excess of $1 trillion in assets,
and have an annual turnover of approximately $390
Its members include Gargill Ltd., Bechtel Canada
Inc., American Express Canada, Inc., 3M Canada Inc., ITT
Canada Ltd., IBM Canada Ltd., Ford Motor Company of
Canada Ltd., DuPont Canada Inc, General Electric Canada
Inc. and General Motors of Canada Ltd.
The CCAFT, on the other hand, is headed by David
Orchard, a fourth generation Saskatchewan farmer and
author who sells copies of his book—The Fight for
Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American
Expansionism—out of the back seat of his car.
Orchard's is a solitary, but articulate, voice
speaking against the trade deals to small but growing
audiences of hundreds as he makes his way across Western
Canada. Canadian historian Kenneth McNaught describes
him as "heir to an old and honourable Canadian
tradition: that of the farmer activist."
As such, Orchard distinguishes himself and his
organization from other anti-free trade groups such as
Maude Barlow's Council of Canadians and Mel Hurtig's
These groups share with him a rather strident
anti-American rhetoric, an anti-free-trade commitment
and a strong pro-Canadian nationalism.
But they stop short of sharing a common strategy on
how to achieve their goals.
Hurtig, a former publisher and author of The Betrayal
of Canada, has gone so far as to form is very own
National party to contest the federal election, saying
the NDP can't and the Liberals and Tories won't, cancel
the FTA or NAFTA.
Barlow, who recently issued Take Back The Nation 2,
with co-author Bruce Campbell, takes a less partisan
stance than Hurtig and argues for pressuring the parties
in the upcoming election to drop the deals as a part of
a larger economic nationalist strategy.
But Barlow undermines her own credibility by accusing
pro-trade advocates of the next best thing to treason
and suggesting a conspiracy exists to dismantle the
country and sell it to the highest (American) bidder.
Orchard eschews conspiracy theories and sticks to
history to make his arguments, which amount to a defence
of the nation against a longstanding sense of manifest
destiny, emanating from the United States, that Canada
is merely an extension of the American empire.
In echoing Sir John A. Macdonald and D'Arcy McGee,
Orchard argues that economic domination , as explicitly
set up in what he calls the "Forced Trade Agreement,"
will surely lead to political domination unless it's
repealed. In its place Canada and the U.S would revert
to trade rules spelled out under the General Agreements
on Tarriffs and Trade.
The key to making that happen, he argues, is not to
vote National party but to persuade the party which has
the best chance of winning the next federal election —
the Liberals — to agree, before the vote, to cancel the
deal and go back to GATT rules. His group wants 100,000
letters mailed to Jean Chretien before the fall
election, calling for the repeal of the FTA. At the
moment the Liberals are only committed to renegotiation
Meanwhile, the pro-FTA, pro-NAFTA arguments appear
daily in a plethora of background studies, papers,
newspaper articles, speeches, and press conferences, and
the battle is joined.
In an uncanny way this trade debate mimics in
miniature the long struggle of a small nation to avoid
being absorbed, conquered or otherwise obliterated by
vastly stronger, better equipped, much larger neighbour.
Orchard is firmly in this tradition, but is he the
last of an endangered species?