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eye magazine (Toronto), Sunday, 1 July, 1993

Selling out the nation
Three new books investigate the impact of Mulroney, the United States and free trade

By Scott Anderson

As Canadians gear up for another federal election, publishing houses have been busy filling the market with political and economic literature in order to quench the public's thirst for knowledge on the campaign-defining issues.

Over the past month a number of books have been piling up at eye and publicists have been tracking down this reporter in hopes of favourable plugs. Pre-election reads are interesting if for no other reason than you get the entire demoralizing government record put into one handsomely bound, easy-to-read volume. You also get politicians bent on increasing their stature through the printed page.

Last year, during the elections in the United States, the bookstore shelves were crowded with the ramblings of politicians who were looking to lend some intellectual weight to their populist diatribes. Texas billionaire Ross Perot published a bestselling no-brainer, Tennessee senator Al Gore wrote a points-getter on the environment and even former presidential candidate Paul Tsongas scribbled a book about his plan for fiscal responsibility. Suddenly, every politician in the U.S. was a brooding, philosophical Thomas Jefferson. (Of course there has already been a spillover in Canadian politics. Both Garth Turner and Patrick Boyer displayed their books at the Tory leadership convention earlier this month.)

However, there were books published last year that were outstanding commentaries on the United States' domestic woes. William Greider's book, Who Will Tell the People: The Betrayal of American Democracy (Simon and Schuster, $16.95 paper), is a revealing glimpse into power structures in Washington that have undermined the democratic process. And two Philadelphia Inquirer reporters, Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, published America: What Went Wrong? (Andrews and McMeel, $6.95 paper), an expansion of their newspaper series that exposed the increasing social and economic polarization between America's rich and poor.

In Canada, a number of books have been published recently that offer a wide variety of insights into the policies that have shaped the social and economic landscape of the past eight years. Most of these works focus on the United States' encroaching sphere of influence in this country, as represented chiefly by the Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

That Brian Mulroney has succumbed to the U.S. more than any other prime minister in the history of Canada is what Lawrence Martin, a former Globe and Mail staffer, argues in Pledge of Allegiance: The Americanization of Canada in the Mulroney Years (McLelland and Stewart, $29.99 cloth). He writes that Canada has become "increasingly isolated and bound to a shrinking and — as measured against the glories of its psot-war supremacy — declining American empire."

Even though Canadians went to the polls four years ago on the issue of a bilateral tarde deal, many Canadians are still not convinced it has worked to their advantage. In What Canadians Believe, But Shouldn't About Their Economy: 26 economic Myths (Addison-Wesley, $16.95 paper), economist Patrick Luciani argues that it is too early to tell whether Canada has gained from the FTA. However, he does put forward that "the more credible data tends to suggest that so far the gains are positive but small." The reason people felt "had" by the Americans and the Mulroney government was because of "politics rather than economics and in what people saw the agreement to be in the first place."

He argues that another reason for Canadians' negative perceptions about the agreement "is that the FTA came into effect just before the country entered the 1990 recession and it was inevitable that opponents of the agreement would confuse the hardships of the recession with the signing of the free trade agreement."

Yet Martin doesn't agree. In Pledge of Allegiance he writes: "In the long term, after the shakedown, after the Canadian economy was rationalized to continental standards, the legacy of free trade would perhaps be different. But in the short term it was impossible to explain the staggering failures in Canada's manufacturing sector in the context of the recession alone. Free Trade bore responsibility. No other recession-hit country was losing factory jobs at the same rate as Canada."

Probably the most scathing indictment of the Mulroney agenda and the FTA comes from David Orchard, national chairman of Citizens Concerned About Free Trade, in The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism (Stoddart, $17.95 paper). If you read one book before the general election, make it this one. Orchard has done an excellent job of chronicling Canada's historical struggle to maintain its sovereignty in the face of unrelenting U.S. expansionism and domination.

The book focuses on the pivotal moments, from the continental wars between British North America and the U.S. through the subtler present conflicts. Orchard feels that Canada, which the U.S. has always coveted but failed to acquire through forceful means, may be won finally through economic domination.

"Because most Canadians did not have access to either the FTA or the documents necessary to make sense of it, the government was able to exploit the public hunger for information," he writes. "More than $25 million of public money was spent producing and circulating booklets, pamphlets and materials like the Synopsis, The FTA in Brief and other articles of a similar nature."

While Luciani argues in favour of free trade based on the economist's ideal of "comparative advantage," Orchard shoots the theory down. "The myth is ‘competitiveness,' because a foreign-owned branch-plant economy cannot compete with its foreign owners," he writes.

The next election will be a turning point for Canada. With the rise of prominent regional political parties it may be difficult for any one party to win a clear majority and implement a mandate. There is a lot of information out there, aside from the daily snapshots in the media, that can assist Canadians in making an informed vote.

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