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Winnipeg Free Press, June 11th, 2003

Orchard brings Tories back to roots

By Frances Russell

"A deal with the devil", fumed Calgary Alliance MP Jason Kenney. "Coalition with the socialists", declared Alliance leader Stephen Harper. And Tom d'Aquino, president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, borrowed a phrase from the U.S. military hype for the Iraq War. "It's not shock and awe. It's shock and horror."

All this gnashing of teeth was occasioned by newly minted federal Tory leader Peter MacKay's agreement with Canadian nationalist David Orchard to review the North American Free Trade Agreement, reject any alliance with the Alliance and shake up party headquarters.

The reactions of the Alliance and the big business were predictable. Less so, however, were the responses from federal Liberals. Paul Martin, the Liberals' crown prince, said the Tories had "put at gun to their heads." Mr. Martin's chief rival, Finance Minister John Manley said "it's inconceivable to me that the PC party would back off from the commitment to free trade. There would be very little left of them."

For those whose knowledge of Canadian history predates the prime ministership of Brian Mulroney, there is nothing strange about the Conservatives questioning free trade with the Americans. What is strange is how the party of Sir John A. Macdonald and John Diefenbaker -- men who wanted neither truck nor trade with the Yankees -- was hijacked by Mr. Mulroney and within a few years made into an unquestioning clone of U.S. right-wing Republicanism. Mr. Mulroney was the aberration. Mr. MacKay is returning to roots.

And given today's political climate, going back to roots might be the smartest thing the Tories have done since Mr. Mulroney's departure. It might give them the opportunity to outflank the Liberals for the moderate centre of Canadian public opinion. And when Liberals are pushed to the right of the Tories, they disappear.

The only knock against Mr. MacKay's "deal with the devil" was its blatant opportunism. It had never crossed Mr. MacKay's mind to think of questioning NAFTA until Mr. Orchard came along with the votes required to put Mr. MacKay's stalled leadership bid over the top.

Canadians have always liked a healthy distance between themselves and the U.S. The presidency of George W. Bush has propelled that desire for distance into a mad dash to the horizon. The more the business elite and its acolytes in the federal bureaucracy and the Liberal and Conservative parties muse about customs unions, dollarization, common markets, security perimeters and missile defence shields, the more disaffected and angry Canadians are likely to become. Meanwhile, the Alliance doesn't even want to bother with the preliminaries. Just join the U.S. and be done with it.

Don't these people care what citizens think? Are they so off in their own little world that they don't know Canada and Canadians are changing -- and changing profoundly?

Canadians know that free trade's supposed "unqualified success" is balderdash. American protectionism dogs every one of our exports the U.S. isn't reliant on for its survival. Only in energy are we immune from the whims of America Firsters. We never needed a free trade deal to get the Americans to buy our oil, gas and electricity. We certainly didn't need a free trade deal to trigger a race to the bottom, sending our manufacturing jobs south to right-to-work U.S. states and Mexico. But we did need a free trade deal with a "binding" dispute settlement mechanism to stop constant harassment of our agricultural products, softwood lumber and a long list of other important exports. Promised, it never happened.

The boom in our export trade is due to our low dollar, not free trade. Free trade has turned Canada into an economic satellite whose government and elites are in constant dread of antagonizing Washington.

Canadians know. And it is undoubtedly why, as sociologist Michael Adams writes in his new book, Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, the tighter the economic bonds are tied, the more Canadians are withdrawing personally and psychologically. The two countries are rapidly evolving into profoundly different societies with sharply contrasting cultures, values and goals. Canadians are secular humanists and think taxes are the price a society pays for civilization. Americans believe in a personal God and eternal salvation and abhor collectivism of any kind. Canadians cherish medicare and have never met a politician they won't question. Americans cherish their guns, salute their flag and think questioning their president is unpatriotic. We are communitarian. They are headed towards a nihilistic libertarianism. As Tom Axworthy says in his review of the book for The Globe and Mail, "Demography may not be destiny but values certainly are".

Thanks to Mr. Orchard, the Tories and Mr. MacKay may get the last laugh on the continentalist Liberals.


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