CANADA

Trumpets of free trade

MICHAEL ROSE March 30 1987
CANADA

Trumpets of free trade

MICHAEL ROSE March 30 1987

Trumpets of free trade

The revelation came at an unwelcome moment. Last week’s parliamentary debate on free trade was to have been Brian Mulroney’s opportunity to focus attention on the negotiations with the United States. But one day after the Prime Minister delivered an impassioned defence of his controversial trade initiative, a minor scandal touched the office of his international trade minister, Pat Carney, whose personal secretary was charged with fraud. There was no indication of wrongdoing by the minister, but as Liberal trade critic Lloyd Axworthy observed, “They’re involved in some sensitive matters on trade, and a disruption in [Carney’s] office would not be of any help to anybody.”

The public relations setback came amid growing signs that the free trade initiative that Mulroney formally launched in September, 1986, might at last be bearing fruit. Indeed, a rough draft of the trade accord will likely be ready by June. In both countries, the momentum was fuelled in part by the emergence of high-profile business groups lobbying for a trade pact. In Toronto, the Canadian Alliance for Trade and Job Opportunities, headed by former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed and Donald Macdonald, chairman of a 1985 royal commission on the economy, announced last week that it would work to “educate Canadians” about the benefits of free trade. And in the United States, executives of several major companies were discussing a similar campaign to promote a deal. Said David Ruth, director of international corporate affairs at American Express: “We’re interested in making sure this agreement gets a good hearing when it gets to Capitol Hill.”

The controversy in Carney’s office seemed unlikely to harm seriously the government’s push toward a trade agreement. Even the Liberal opposition, attempting to score political points with every hint of impropriety among ministerial staff, acknowledged that the incident appeared to be minor. The RCMP charged Carney’s private secretary, Marie Menard, 26, with fraud after what Carney called “a routine year-end audit that was conducted at my request.”

But the incident cast a shadow over an otherwise upbeat week. Tory strategists had orchestrated the one-day Commons debate on free trade to allow Mulroney—and senior cabinet ministers—to trumpet the potential benefits of a pact with the United States. Conservatives also framed the debate to expose the deep division among Liberals on the issue. The Prime Minister

led the debate while his new communications director, Bruce Phillips, watched closely and took notes from the visitors’ gallery above. Mulroney insisted that the trade initiative means “jobs, prosperity, regional growth and a future for our children.” But he repeated his promise that no deal would be signed if it did not es-

tablish a new way of settling trade disputes, phase in elimination of existing tariffs and reduce nontariff barriers.

In the House, the opposition parties assailed Mulroney for failing to provide enough details on the bargaining table discussions. In fact, Mulroney’s aides had said earlier that he would disclose important new information on the free trade talks. Only Carney added such details to the debate. She listed Canada’s objectives and areas of concern, and confirmed that Ottawa was discussing two sensitive issues: trade in services and intellectual property (including copyright laws). Still, Liberal Leader John Turner insisted, “Canadians are no wiser than we were two years ago.”

In his own speech, Turner tried to clarify his party’s position on free trade by introducing an amendment to the government’s free trade motion

that supported a “bilateral trading arrangement” with the United States. But the same amendment rejected “an all-inclusive free trade arrangement” and contained a list of conditions to be met before any agreement is signed. In fact, the amendment—defeated by a Commons vote on Tuesday night, March 17—was written by a special Liberal caucus committee formed to hammer out a consensus. Said Mulroney of the Liberals: “They have to acknowledge that we have one posi-

tion, not two, three or four.”

As the MPs debated —eventually adopting a government motion supporting the talks by a vote of 160 to 58—Canada’s chief trade negotiator, Simon Reisman, met with his American counterpart, Peter Murphy, in an office tower near Parliament Hill. Voicing caution amid growing expectations that a draft agreement was just weeks away, Murphy warned that any agreement faced an uphill battle in Congress. “We’re trying to push forward with liberalizing measures when, essentially, Congress is going in the other direction,” he said. “It’s going to be very, very tough.” It was a message that reminded both governments that some significant hurdles remain.

— MICHAEL ROSE with MADELAINE DROHAN in Ottawa