For New Democratic Party Leader Edward Broadbent, the Nov. 21 election will mark the end of his fourth campaign as party leader. But although the NDP began the campaign with high hopes—and with a second-place standing in public opinion polls—it had dropped to a distant third by last week, as the Liberals and Conservatives fought neck and neck over the U.S.-Canada free trade agreement. Still, in an exclusive interview with Maclean’s in Toronto last week, Broadbent remained optimistic that the NDP fortunes would improve in the final week of the campaign.
Maclean’s: The Prime Minister has said that he would reintroduce free trade legislation even if he won a minority government. What would your party do if you held the balance of power? Broadbent: We would not support such legislation in any way—introduced by anyone. We could not with integrity—considering what we have said about this deal from the time it was announced, up to the last days of the election. In every section of our party, in every province, there has been total opposition to this deal.
Maclean’s: Would you force another election over the issue?
Broadbent: I see it the other way around. Anyone knowing our position on that issue would be forcing an election [by reintroducing free trade legislation].
Maclean’s: What about holding a referendum on free trade?
Broadbent: First, I want to make it clear that I am not making the assumption that
there is going to be a minority government— who knows what the outcome will be? But on the question of a referendum, there are a number of arguments against it. Traditionally, all parties in Canada have accepted—wisely, I think—that, given the regional nature of Canada, referendums are dangerous things from the point of view of national unity. I am happy to say that a majority of Canadians in all regions are now against the deal, but after a referen-
dum campaign, it could flip back. You could end up dividing the nation on a regional basis over a fundamental issue. I think it would be very risky. There is another argument. This kind of deal is so complicated, so immense in its complexity, that the political parties have an obligation to think through the deal and present options to the voters. That is our job. Maclean’s: But hasn’t this election already turned into a referendum on free trade—to the exclusion of all other issues?
Broadbent: To a fair extent, that has happened. Part of our challenge between now and election day is to get other items back on the agenda: tax reform, the environment, child care, things that in fact were on the agenda and were publicly discussed in the first three weeks [before the televised leaders' debates]. We were doing very well when the people of Canada were thinking in a multifacetted way, not just about free trade and the independence of Canada, but about what kind of Canada they want. As long as those items were out there, we were doing well as a party. It has tended to be, from the debates on, a single-issue campaign for many Canadians.
Maclean’s: Were you victimized by that change in the campaign?
Broadbent: I won’t use a word like victimized, but we have done less well when the discussion has concentrated on the trade deal. But I have been saying in speech after speech that there are two questions: independence for Canada, but then what kind of Canada we want. As a social democrat, I would try to change the government’s priorities—to focus on the corporate tax system, regional development and a whole range of areas. That remains our challenge before the election.
Maclean’s: Is there anything about the free trade deal that you like? Broadbent: The dispute settlement mechanism makes sense for both countries. Steven Langdon, our trade critic, was the first politician to talk publicly about such an approach— about trying to develop some new institutional relationship that would head off these disputes before they get mired in countervail action. That makes a lot of
Maclean’s: Could the deal be amended in order to retain what you find favorable in it? The East Coast fishery, for one, is protected
by the Canada-U.S. trade agreement. Broadbent: That protection makes sense only in the context of certain trade-offs that both sides saw as elements of the package. But the deal is essentially unamendable because it is too comprehensive. If you had a deal with two or three elements only, you could say, ‘I don’t like Clause B, but I like C, D and E, so let’s talk about Clause B.’ But this touches everything, from performance requirements on foreign investment, to energy pricing, to medicare and other social programs.
Maclean’s: How would an NDP government deal with Canada-U.S. trade issues? Broadbent: We would rebuild the trading relationship with the Americans, starting from where we left off when negotiations for the trade agreement began. That would include negotiation of something like a dispute settlement mechanism, and carrying out tariff reductions that would be good for both nations. Third, where there are possibilities for bilateral agreements that would be mutually advantageous, we would do that. I am not talking about a single new document but an ongoing relationship, almost as if the last two or three years hadn’t existed. We were each other’s best trading partners, but there were problems. By and large they were taking more cracks at us than we were taking at them, but we took some cracks at them too. So a dispute settlement mechanism of some kind would be desirable. And, by the way, I would never envisage, as Mulroney talked about at one time, either of us giving up complete sovereignty in that area. That’s illusory.
Maclean’s: If you formed a government, you would be presiding over a country in which about half the people wanted a deal that you are determined to throw out. What would you give them in exchange?
Broadbent: What we would have to make clear is that, while we are critical of this deal, we are not critical of the American people. A Canadian historian once said Canadians love Americans but they hate American institutions. There is a lot to that. Personally, I like Americans. But in a political context, it’s easy for the Conservative government to portray the NDP as anti-American. After an election, we would have to redress that balance, to get that nonsense out of the way.
Maclean’s: How would the NDP handle relations with the new U.S. administration? Broadbent: I saw George Bush when he was here as vice-president—he invited me and my wife, Lucille, to visit him in Kennebunkport— so there is a personal contact. I believe that he is a more decent guy than his terribly rightwing campaign would indicate. His attitude on acid rain, for instance, is a lot more advanced than President Reagan’s. There are entrées— he wants to do something about acid rain, and so do we. We have an interest in a dispute settlement, and so do they.
Maclean’s: Why are you not reassured by the trade agreement’s six-month cancellation clause?
Broadbent: That is like saying that the right to a divorce ought to be reassuring when you
enter into a marriage. That is not exactly a healthy foundation for a marriage.
Maclean’s: You have said that the trade agreement threatens Canada’s social programs. What government in its right mind would dismantle medicare?
Broadbent: There are specific clauses that permit bringing in certain U.S.-style management services in the hospital sector, if a province so decides. But, for me, it goes beyond that, to the problem of harmonization of standards. The Quebec Business Council, the president of the Ford Motor Co. of Canada and a number of other business people have said that what this deal means, in effect, is that we cannot continue with the same high level of social services. A higher level of social services means, for them, higher taxes. The business community has always used these arguments since the time medicare was first introduced. They have always said that we can’t afford it
‘We were doing very well when the people of Canada were thinking not just about free trade, but also about what kind of Canada they want’
and they believe that—they deeply believe that to remain competitive, we can’t afford it. By having this deal, you compound those arguments. They would have a whole new argument to go to their governments with and say, ‘Sorry, we need cutbacks in these social programs, and you certainly cannot expand them.’ That means, for me, that medicare and pensions are threatened.
More importantly, there is a clause in the deal that could have stopped us from bringing medicare in. Say a future government wanted to bring in a pharmacare or denticare program: there is a requirement in the agreement of compensation for American insurance businesses already in the field. If we take away their business by bringing in a state monopoly, they can demand compensation. When medicare was introduced, there were millions of dollars of private insurance tied up in the business and there was no compensation—the government just moved in and did it. But with
this deal, we would have to compensate big U.S. companies. I understand their interest, but I’m opposed to it.
Maclean’s: But couldn’t private insurance actually save the government money? In the United States, many employers pay for their employees’ health insurance.
Broadbent: That is a bogus argument. Where they have it, it’s because there have been strong unions pushing for it.
Maclean’s: Social democracies in Europe have no problem with multinational trade agreements. Why do you?
Broadbent: For one thing, most of them retain very stringent foreign ownership performance requirements. The Swedish minister of international trade told me that she was astounded by the provisions in our trade agreement about energy, and on the absence of performance criteria on foreign companies coming into Canada. As well, the European Community countries’ social programs by and large complement each other. They are ahead of us in some ways and they are certainly ahead of the United States. They don’t have to harmonize with a country that I regard as socially backward. Even Senator Edward Kennedy says that Americans are not leaders on this continent in social programs, the Canadians are. But he is a voice in the wilderness right now in American society.
Maclean’s: In order to defeat the trade deal, would you encourage NDP supporters to vote Liberal where Liberal candidates stand a better chance?
Broadbent: Absolutely not. I don’t know where John Turner will ultimately go on this deal. I was astounded by Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa’s comment a few days ago about Turner. He said that politicians are known to say one thing before an election and another thing after.
Maclean’s: Are you saying that Turner is lying about his opposition to the trade agreement?
Broadbent: It is a mug’s game to say directly.
I leave it up to other people to decide. I’ve pointed out his record, and to me it illustrates that Turner is one of the most conservative men to enter Canadian politics. I leave it to the Canadians to decide who is the real John Turner: the reformer that is talking now, or the man who, when he had power as minister of finance or speaking as a Bay Street lawyer, supported British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. There is a possibility that he has had a conversion, so I am not going to say that John Turner is lying. But I am saying that if I wanted to get rid of the trade deal, I would not vote for him. Maclean’s: Year after year, New Democrats go into campaigns high-hearted and full of plans. But there seems to be a ceiling on how well you can do. What is the problem? Broadbent: We haven’t yet seen the ceiling. A few weeks ago, the polls showed an entirely different set of circumstances. Polls can change between now and voting day. And having a set of genes from my mother, I remain optimistic that they will. □
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