STRAIGHT TO THE HEART
THE EMOTIONAL CLASHES OVER FREE TRADE ARE DOMINATING THE CAMPAIGN
“Canada, having once beome the commercial and industrial vassal of the United States, would inevitably become the political vassal of that country and ultimately be absorbed. ”—Prime Minister Robert Borden in 1911, after his successful, emotionally charged crusade against freer trade with the United States in the 1911 election campaign
With an unexpected ferocity, Canada’s recurring inner struggle over free trade with the United States was thrust into the eye of the 1988 federal election campaign
last week. Once again, Canadians faced the task of weighing the potential costs and benefits of a trade agreement with the United States. In the wake of an electrifying confrontation over the proposal between Liberal Leader John Turner and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during the English-language televised leaders’ debate on Oct. 25, emotional arguments on both sides of the issue were unfurled—and fact fought fear for the hearts and minds of Canadian voters. “It is an old debate being played out in a new way,” said University of Toronto historian Michael Bliss. “Once you unleash the deep-seated Canadian fear of being taken over by the United States, it is pretty potent.” And with the flash of a TV newsclip,
the previously sleepy campaign for the Nov. 21 election was tranformed into one of the most critical—and nastiest—elections in Canadian history.
Confusion: The bitterness of the campaign and the contradictory claims about the potential effects of free trade seemed to heighten the confusion among Canadians (page 14). But the passion of Turner and New Democratic Party Leader Edward Broadbent’s anti-accord stands and their charges that the pact threatens Canada’s social programs had a dramatic effect on Canadian public opinion. In the days following the French and English debates, the Gallup polling organization reported a 19-per-cent shift in voters’ intentions—the largest single change ever recorded by the organization in its 41-year history—and said that its latest figures gave the Liberals the lead in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. At week’s end, an Insight Canada poll prepared for the CTV Television Network gave the Liberals 40 per cent of the decided vote, the Conservatives 37 per cent, and the NDP 20 per cent. With the Tories’ chances for a majority government suddenly endangered, pro-free-trade groups and individuals—from a coalition of business leaders to Simon Reisman, Canada’s chief negotiator in the trade talks—entered the debate.
The shifting campaign even affected the Canadian dollar, which fell 1.46 cents in a
single day (page 16). And as the two sides in the debate accused each other of misleading the electorate, their passion submerged almost every other issue (page 19). Sharp words and shouted taunts became the staple of all three parties’ campaign tours. In a campaign swing through Manitoba last Friday, Mulroney ridiculed Turner’s claim that free trade would reduce jobs and said, “It is pretty clear that the only job John Turner is interested in protecting is his own.” For his part, Turner—in Victoria Thursday—assailed a pro-free-trade advertising campaign by business groups and said, “Big business, led by American multinationals, is now trying to buy this election.” In an interview with Maclean’s, Broadbent said what Canadians had to realize was that “the real difference between us and the Liberals and the Tories is on the concept of fairness—whether it is taxes or social policy.”
Bitter: But with just two weeks left in the seven-week campaign, the spoils of the bitter warfare seemed to be going to the Liberals. The party began the campaign fighting for second place in the polls with the NDP, with both of them well behind the Conservatives. But all major polls last week showed that the trade issue had revived the Liberals’ electoral prospects, with the party making gains at the expense of both the Tories and NDP. Said Lome Bozinoff, vice-president of Gallup Canada Inc.:
A HUGE SHIFT IN THE POLLS FOLLOWED THE TELEVISION DEBATES
“Free trade is all that people are talking about. It has a life of its own right now.”
The new emphasis on trade was troublesome for the NDP, which had crafted a campaign strategy around a broad array of policy proposals. The NDP’s support appeared to be holding in the party’s traditional strongholds, particularly British Columbia, but there were no signs that it was making serious inroads elsewhere. Meanwhile, Turner’s campaign became an unapologetic nationalist crusade against the deal.
Hecklers: In turn, the Tory campaign markedly altered its style. Before the leaders’ debates, polls consistently showed that the Conservatives would likely win the majority needed to pass the accord. As a result, Mulroney’s campaign initially avoided any extensive examination of trade, and the Prime Minister paid little attention to the anti-free-trade hecklers who shadowed his campaign tour. Instead, he adopted a statesmanlike approach, and his speeches emphasized a wide range of his government’s achievements. But as Liberal support rebounded, Mulroney left the high road. He directed some of his sharpest criticism at Liberal campaign co-chairman Senator Michael Kirby, who said that having the support of the business community was like having the support of the Ku Klux Klan. That, said Mulroney, was “the essence of McCarthyism.” Tory planners admitted that they had miscalculated both the boost the Liberals would get if Turner did well in the TV debates and the impact of the Liberal ad campaign. At the same
time, said one prominent Conservative, Mulroney was too cautious during the debates.
Although Mulroney had little choice but to defend his trade agreement, his advisers expressed concern that the campaign was becom-
ing a single-issue contest. In fact, it was not until this year that the government began to actively promote free trade with a much-criticized $ 10-million promotional campaign. Now, some Tories say that their strategy may have
been wrong and that they should have been more active in trying to convince Canadians of the benefits of free trade and removing concerns about any potential weakening of Canadian sovereignty. Said one Tory insider, who requested anonymity: “We had a year without the pressures of an election campaign to tell Canadians why the deal is essential to their future. Instead, we preached to a few of the converted businessmen and did a lousy job at soothing the fears of average Canadians.”
Now, the Tories have to make the case for the accord in the emotionally charged atmosphere of the campaign’s waning days. To that end, they sent senior cabinet ministers across the country on a speaking blitz last week. In London, Ont., International Trade Minister John Crosbie criticized a group of university students for their attacks on the agreement. He added, “lam not going to be namby-pamby when I disagree with a deliberate attempt to deceive the Canadian people by those in the NDP and the Liberal party.” And in Ottawa, Finance Minister Michael Wilson warned that the Americans might revoke the 1965 CanadaU.S. Auto Pact if the deal were not approved. Although Wilson was quickly rebuked by Ontario Premier David Peterson, who described his remarks as “fear-mongering,” the finance minister’s comments seemed to make a strong impression, especially in Ontario where one in six jobs depends one way or another on the automobile industry.
‘Reckless’: The Conservatives also enlisted Reisman to defend the deal. During several heated exchanges with the media, Reisman angrily denied allegations that Canada’s social programs could be dismantled as a result of the accord. Said Reisman: “I would stake my life that our social programs cannot be touched.” Reisman also criticized Turner, a longtime friend. Indeed, that personal relationship has
become strained as a result of the trade disagreement. “He is not the man I knew. John is a desperate man who is being reckless with the future of the country,” Reisman told Maclean ’s. The Conservatives have already toughened their TV advertising campaign for the final two weeks. The new phase features 10 real people—not actors, as in the NDP’s anti-freetrade ads—talking about the merits of the deal. But Tory advisers told Maclean’s that they were considering creating hard-hitting ads that would attack Turner and what they perceive to be a weak Liberal team. Said Conservative operations director Harry Near: “We will make people remember what they would be getting.” Commented Liberal advertising director David Morton:
“Lord knows what the ads will look like. It depends on how desperate they are.”
Tone: But both the Tories and the NDP will have difficulty improving on the effectiveness of a Liberal ad that has been running since Oct.
23, depicting a U.S. trade negotiator erasing the Canada-U.S. border. Said Morton:
“It is not a delicate ad; it is trying to make a point.”
In fact, NDP communications adviser Julie Mason credited that ad—as much as Turner’s debate performance—for the Liberal recovery. In keeping with the new tone of the campaign, Reisman characterized the ad as “scurrilous and dishonest.” looked at it and I almost puked.”
Other viewers also expressed dismay at the general character of all three parties’ ads. Said Alan Rae, president of the Canadian Advertising Foundation, a volunteer group primarily concerned with standards in advertising: “Almost anything goes in election advertising, and the advertisements have been a little less than totally honest.” Other observers criticized the campaign’s strident tone. Said historian Bliss:
“There are no gentlemen left _
in Canadian politics.” As the race tightened, organizers said the bitterness is unlikely to abate. One Tory organizer privately acknowledged that the party had sent pro-freetrade demonstrators to heckle Turner at Liberal rallies and predicted that the campaign would get even nastier.
As the divisions deepened, many Canadians joined in the debate. After Turner’s appearance at a University of Victoria open forum, students and teachers openly clashed over the trade deal.
Said John Plaice, a computer
science professor, during a confrontation with one student: “It is dividing the
country along the lines of whether we consider economics to be the most important thing in our lives.” And at a plant in Thunder Bay, Ont., following a visit by Broadbent, worker Kenneth Payetta, a Tory supporter, became embroiled in a shouting match with Charles Meeking, an NDP backer. Said Payetta: “Mulroney is guaranteeing a future for Canada.” Declared Meeking: “I represent a lot of people in this plant, and they are scared to death. And
that is where we wanted the game to be fought.” And many observers said that the Liberals would continue to benefit the most if the campaign focus remains on the deal. Said Winnipeg-based pollster Angus Reid: “If this election becomes a referendum on free trade, we could be looking at a majority Liberal government.”
Still, the pollsters add that the unusually high level of undecided voters—averaging around 20 per cent—makes it difficult to predict a clear winner. According to Michael Adams, president of Environics Research Group Ltd. in Toronto, at least half of the electorate is still capable of changing allegiances. And although the polls have already indicated one massive shift in voter intentions toward the Liberals, Adams predicted that “the electorate could surprise us one more time.” Intervention: The Tories themselves still talked of forming another majority government in the enlarged 295-seat House of Commons. One reason: in Quebec,
where free trade remains g popular, the party expects at ^ least to retain its current bloc “ of 58 seats. Said Marcel Côté, § the Tories’ communications
0 director in Quebec: “There is 5 a consensus, especially
1 among opinion leaders, that J free trade is good for the
province and does not threat-
en social programs.” And
He added, “I
I am scared to death for my job.”
Business leaders joined the debate in an attention-grabbing way. A coalition of businesses, the Canadian Alliance for Trade and Job Opportunities, launched a $1.3-million ad campaign promoting the accord and predicting severe economic consequences for Canada if it rejects the deal. Its fourto five-page ads in newspapers contradicted information in a 24page booklet distributed earlier by an anti-freetrade coalition, the Pro-Canada Network. Said
_ David Culver, chairman of
Montreal-based Alcan Aluminum Ltd.: “In a raging democracy, you often have raging debate. But I’ve seldom seen this degree of acerbity.” He added, “At times like this, our confrontational system of government may not be in the best interests of the country.”
But pollsters and politicians generally agreed that the election had become synonymous with the trade debate—and that is what the Liberals and the NDP wanted. Said Morton: “The campaign is more in our corner, and
open intervention by Premier Robert Bourassa to save the deal has helped the Tory cause. Said one adviser to the premier: “Bourassa has now taken the gloves off over free trade.”
And the pro-free-trade side received support from an unexpected quarter last week. Emmett Hall, an 89-year-old former Supreme Court justice, said that the Liberals and NDP had no basis for their claims that the free trade agreement would undermine Canada’s medicare system. Declared Hall, whose 1961 Royal Commission on Health Services in Canada helped to put the medicare system in place: “If I had found that there was in this free trade agreement provisions which would damage medicare, I would have opposed this agreement, because medicare is perhaps one of the things I hold dearest in life today.” Hall’s intervention demonstrated the degree to which the trade debate had penetrated nearly every aspect of Canadian life. On the eve of a historic election, with debates raging from shop floors to boardrooms, that penetration was unlikely to diminish until voters themselves settled the issue.
LISA VAN DUSEN