In a remarkable turnaround, Liberal Leader John Turner has climbed back from a slump in the opinion polls and transformed the current campaign into a passionate nationwide debate on free trade. Late last week, after a three-day swing across Western Canada, Turner took a break from campaigning and, in an exclusive interview with Maclean’s in Saskatoon, he spoke at length about his opposition to the trade pact.
Maclean’s: Recent polls show that Canadians are almost evenly divided on the merits of free trade. If you win a majority, how will you unify the country?
Turner: The Mulroney trade deal would radically change the direction of our country. It yields the economic levers of sovereignty: our energy, our investment policy, our capital markets, supply-management of agriculture. The contemplated negotiations for a common definition of subsidy endanger our social programs
and our regional equality programs. Yes, the issue divides the country, although more and more Canadians are coming to accept my view that this is more than an economic debate, it is a debate on the future of Canada. Once elected, I would do my best to reach out to Canadians and unify the country.
Maclean’s: How can you reassure the domestic and international business communities? Turner: I have said to business friends that this is a bad contract for Canada. If any of them had retained me for a lawyer and I had come back with that contract, they would have fired me. I have also said to the business community of Canada that the business of business is money, and that’s legitimate. But the business of public life is people, and this is more than an economic deal. We would pursue the style of negotiating with the United States that has always been successful for Canada. We would negotiate under international auspices, under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
Using that strategy, 80 per cent of everything that crosses the border now goes free of tariff. And we have accomplished that without
yielding sovereignty or yielding the political capacity that we would give away under the trade deal. More than that, I would say to the business community that the prime purpose of the Mulroney deal was to achieve clear access into the American market. That meant achieving an exemption from American protectionist trade law. That was not achieved—and we yielded our ability to appeal to the GATT and challenge American law. So the business community has not gained anything and will not lose anything when the deal is not ratified. Maclean’s: If elected, would you attempt to negotiate a new deal with the United States and would you retain any parts of the existing accord?
Turner: Well, the deal is a take-it-or-leave-it deal—that is what the Prime Minister said. But since the sole purpose of a bilateral deal as opposed to an international deal was to achieve an exemption from American trade law, and since we did not get and will not conceivably get it because the Congress will never yield that jurisdiction, then renegotiation of the deal as such is not feasible. What we would do is to resume discussions with the United States to enlarge the jurisdiction of the GATT into services, negotiate on agriculture, reinforce the dispute mechanism system, and so on. Of course, we will continue to discuss our trade problems and trade future with the Americans—that is essential. But the basis of the deal itself—secure
0 access into the American mar-
1 ket—was not achieved, so that x is not negotiable.
Maclean’s: In light of president-elect George Bush ’s victory and the recent appointment as secretary of state of James Baker—who was instrumental in negotiating the free trade agreement—how do you think the Americans would respond to any overtures for a new trade deal after you have cancelled the current proposal?
Turner: The deal depends on ratification by the Canadian people. President-elect Bush has just undergone a strenuous election and he understands the democratic process. I would say to the new president that his predecessor outmanoeuvred my predecessor. We put the deal to Canadians—or, to use U.S. business terms, we put the deal to the shareholders—and Canadians turned it down. Understanding the democratic process as an American does, I am sure that he will understand that we now have to work out something different. Maclean’s: Do you think the Americans will be receptive?
Turner: I am saying that the Americans are realists; they are pragmatists. They are not only our largest customer, we are their largest customer. We are also an ally in defence and we
will continue to be a strong ally. We have our atmosphere to clear up together, we have to continue to clean up our waters and manage our international rivers and lakes, and we have a number of issues around the world where we are very close to the American view. So it is in the interest of the United States, as it is in the interest of Canada, to maintain positive relations in the future.
Maclean’s: If this election produces a Conservative minority government, would you form a coalition with the NDP?
Turner: We would not contemplate a coalition with the NDP.
Maclean’s: Under any circumstances? Turner: No.
Maclean’s: What would happen if the Tories won a majority but had less than 50 per cent of the popular vote ? Would you argue that they did not have a mandate for free trade?
Turner: No, I believe in responsible
Maclean’s: Would you use the Senate again to hold up the agreement until a referendum was held on the issue?
Turner: No, this election is a referendum on the trade deal.
Maclean’s: Would you live with the deal if the Canadian people support it?
Turner: I always accept the judgment of the Canadian people.
Maclean’s: A few years ago, you expressed support for a free trade deal between Canada and the United States. Do you oppose this deal specifically or did you change your mind? Turner: No, I have always believed in freer trade, but internationally. I have always believed that Canada would be ill-advised to get into face-to-face negotiations with a country 10 times stronger than we are, with 10 times more people and with 10 times the market. In order to penetrate that market under a bilateral arrangement, Canada would have to give 10 times the concessions—and that is what Mr. Mulroney did. I would continue to co-operate with the Americans but in a way that would not yield our sovereignty.
Maclean’s: In 1983, Brian Mulroney said that he opposed free trade with the United States. What do you think changed his mind? Turner: I cannot speculate. I am not his personal psychiatrist, and he has never given Canadians an answer.
Maclean’s: Do you believe that Canada can survive economically without a free trade deal with a major trading bloc?
Turner: I think that Canada would be illadvised to become a junior partner in Fortress America. It has always been in Canada’s interest to seek a widening trading perspective globally. A series of protectionist blocs around the world is never in Canada’s interest. Maclean’s: The Conservatives have accused you of indulging in scare tactics by warning that free trade would jeopardize social programs. How do you respond to that?
Turner: It is quite clear that the objective of the United States in these fiveto seven-year negotiations is to wipe out any Canadian advantage, whether in fiscal programs, grants or
subsidies, that gives a Canadian enterprise an advantage over an American enterprise. Their definitions of a subsidy or unfair trading practices are found in the 1930 statute of the United States, the 1974 trade act and the omnibus trade bill just signed by the President. They are wide enough to cover or eliminate every regional economic development program and conceivably the public social programs that give Canadian businesses an unfair advantage in their view.
Maclean’s: You have indicated that you want to see the books before explaining how you will pay for your election promises. But the Prime Minister says that the books are all public. Turner: Mr. Mulroney did not give any indication of his budgetary plans in 1984, nor will I until I see the books. Unlike him in 1984,1 have costed our programs. You will have a total before the election, and I will give you comparisons of that total with the programs of the
‘More and more Canadians are coming to accept my view that this is more than an economic debate—it is a debate on the future of Canada’
other two parties. Our programs are directed toward people, not megaprojects subsidizing industry, and not toward nuclear-powered submarines. Our programs deal with helping those in need with child-care services and affordable housing. Our programs are directed toward the environment, preventive health care for seniors, and so on. Mr. Mulroney is no authority on good management on the public debt. Fortyfive per cent of the entire public debt of this country since Confederation has been added in his four years of government.
Maclean’s: What would a Liberal government do about the chaotic immigration system? Turner: We would review legislation passed by the Tories concerning refugees and immigration in light of the amendments that we put forward in the House of Commons. Maclean’s: You have indicated that you would not reopen talks on the Meech Lake constitutional accord. What will you do about the increasing resistance to the expansion of
French-language rights outside Quebec, particularly in Alberta and Ontario? What about the lack of protection for English-speaking Quebecers under Meech Lake’s ‘distinct society’ clause?
Turner: We believe that the spirit of Meech Lake and the charter of rights in the Constitution Act of 1982 both protect minority rights outside of Quebec and within Quebec on an equal basis. I would not reopen Meech Lake. I would make every effort to have it ratified. Then we would form our own ongoing constitutional program.
Maclean’s: How do you feel about President Reagan’s announced plan to deliver a speech in favor of free trade before the election?
Turner: It would surprise me if a president of the United States would intervene in a Canadian federal election.
Maclean’s: How did all the bad publicity that surrounded your campaign before the television debates affect you? Did you ever feel tempted to throw in the towel?
Turner: I felt that if I could persuade Canadians to concentrate on the issues, then I would have an opportunity of winning this election. For the first time in four years, I had an opportunity to talk to millions of Canadians in French and English about how I felt about our country, how I felt about the free trade deal, how I felt about the growing gap between rich and poor under the Mulroney administration. I was able to do this without any intermediary, without any interpreter, and I am satisfied that I was given a good hearing by Canadians. Maclean’s: Is that when things began to turn around for you?
Turner: I think that when Canadians understood what I was saying, when they heard it from me directly, our fortunes started to improve.
Maclean’s: Finance Minister Michael Wilson has said that your campaign promises would cost $37.7 billion, but that the Tories’ commitments would cost nothing because they were made before the campaign. How do you respond to that?
Turner: Mr. Wilson calls Tory promises ‘spending commitments’ and calls Liberal promises ‘election promises.’ He quantifies his party’s election commitments as dollar zero and he has a fantastically outrageous figure for ours. That is the new Tory math. I do not have much time for it. We will produce our own figures as we see them in comparison with the Tory and NDP figures.
Maclean’s: Has this campaign been particularly negative compared with others?
Turner: I do not particularly like being called a liar. It seems to me that Mr. Mulroney has been infected by his American friends. Maclean’s: In what way?
Turner: Negative campaigning.
Maclean’s: What kind of an effect will that have on Canadians?
Turner: I think Canadians would react against negative campaigning. I have confidence in Canadians. Also, we have an overriding theme in our election—the future of our country. The American election had no theme at all. □
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