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The Moncton Times and Transcript, 13 February, 2003

Tory Leadership Hopeful Would Revisit Free Trade Agreement

David Orchard says NAFTA has Canada in a ‘trade straitjacket,’ country would fare better under old rules of World Trade Organization

"We are a cold country," says federal Tory leadership hopeful David Orchard.

He'll get no argument from New Brunswickers, but the Saskatchewan farmer has good reason to state the obvious.

Orchard has visited the Maritimes on two previous high-profile occasions, first in 1988 as an outspoken, nation-crossing opponent of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's North American Free Trade Agreement. Ten years later, and Mulroney safely excised from the public consciousness, he was runner-up to Joe Clark the last time the Conservative party had a leadership race.

This time Orchard hopes to replace Clark and one day lead the Canadian government.

But to hear him talk, Maritimers might wish he was Prime Minister today. "I'm often tagged as being against free trade," he says. "I'm not. I favour a free trade that preserves our independence because, right now, we don't have 'free' trade here. We signed clauses in NAFTA -- clauses which Mexico refused to sign -- where we would never charge more for any form of energy we export than what we charge Canadians. Furthermore -- if and when we have a shortage of any energy form -- we will continue to ship the same proportion south as we were shipping in the previous three years.

"Now we are shipping 60 per cent of our natural gas south and if a shortage comes we are still committed to that percentage. The people of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are practically pleading for some of the gas from our offshore, when most of it is going south to run industries in New England.

"Also, we have to charge the world price for it, where before we had the right to a two-price system. We are a cold country, after all, and this is our resource and we should take a leaf from Saudi Arabia's book, which sells gasoline to its own people for a few cents a litre and charges all they can get on the world market. That to me is free trade. Pre-committing two thirds of your supply to one buyer with a guarantee to never charge more is not. That's forced trade."

Opposition Leader Orchard would review the impact of NAFTA not just on security of the energy supply, but on sovereignty, the state of our military, in fact myriad issues.

"I would love to go up against Mr. Paul Martin on this," he said, predicting that Prime Minister Orchard would withdraw from NAFTA and revert back to our old rules under the World Trade Organization, under which he believes Canada fared much better.

An Orchard government would also move away from the export of raw materials.

"Think of the by-products to be stripped from a resource like natural gas, which could build industry here, but we also have existing industries which should be revived.

"We are also a trading nation, and during the Second World War were the fourth leading shipbuilding nation in the world. Now we allow shipping magnates like Paul Martin to run their fleets under foreign flags of convenience to save on taxes, and we buy our ships from Korea and Japan. Despite NAFTA the United States has the Jones Act, which requires that American fleets be built in the U.S. I say we simply copy that legislation and revive an industry for both our coasts."

Orchard supports the efforts of the current government to support 'Research and Development' industries in the Maritime provinces but they cannot be sustained if talented youth are leaving.

"The same kind of brain drain is going on in Saskatchewan," he says, not just in RD, but any hot industry than banks on technological advances, such as filmmaking.

New Brunswick has a fledgling film industry, largely based in Moncton, and it could be helped with public investment.

"If Norway can do it with five or six million people, Canada can too, but it requires a little bit of political direction.

"Norway stayed out of the European Union and kept Norwegian resources in Norwegian hands. Their students get the benefit of low and often non•existent tuition fees. We have to get rid of the trade straitjacket we're in right now."

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