What would the federal Conservatives do about free trade if they fail to win a majority in next Monday’s federal election? What do they think in hindsight of their free trade selling job? In a one-hour exclusive interview with Maclean’s last Friday in his Langevin Block office across the street from Parliament Hill, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney answered those and other questions about the 1988 campaign.
Maclean’s: If you form the next government, will you pursue the trade accord, regardless of the number of seats?
Maclean’s: Even with a minority? Mulroney: The trade deal is a must for Canada’s future. It’s a visionary instrument of job creation and new wealth and it is clearly something that is on the right side of history. Those who oppose it today are going to be held in the same low esteem as those who 25 years ago opposed the [Canada-U.S.j Auto Pact for precisely the same reasons. This is an important act of nation-building. What is slowly emerging after a pernicious campaign of falsehood and fear is the truth. Inexorably, the truth will out—and the truth is a choice between the free trade agreement and one that is torn up and thrown away. That’s the choice that Mr. Turner offers the country. Given the choices, as the days go by in this campaign, you can bet that Canadians are going to choose the positive and reject the destructive.
Maclean’s: If you have a minority government, would you consider holding a referendum on free trade?
Mulroney: I am looking forward to a strong endorsement of what we have done. Maclean’s: Was it a mistake in retrospect not to provide a better explanation of the free trade agreement?
Mulroney: No. These things take on lives of their own. The issuance of the [election] writ is like a hanging in the morning: it tends to focus the mind. The issuance of this writ gave profiles to both sides of the proposition. What was difficult for us to forecast was the fact that the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition would take a campaign of systematic and fundamental untruth. There is not a single thing about the free trade agreement that Mr.
Turner has said that is true. I never thought in 1988 that I would see the leader of a national party enter a senior citizens’ home and wilfully try to sow fear among the elderly and the sick of Canada, propagating absolute and demonstrable falsehoods. The truth is catching on. The Liberals got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. People know that they have been telling absolute and wilful falsehoods, and the tide is turning.
Maclean’s: Are you picking up any signs of anti-Americanism in this campaign? Mulroney: There is a well of anti-Americanism in Canada. There always has been. It is like anything else: you get up in the morning, and if things are going poorly, you blame it on your
neighbor. A fair number of Canadians over the years have blamed it on the Americans. Lester Pearson wrote in his memoirs that there are people in Canada who believe that Canadians are not able enough to drive effective bargains with the Americans so they exploit their insecurities by transposing their insecurities onto the nation, by yelling ‘Sellout’ and ‘51st state.’ Mr. Pearson wrote that this is the sign of weakness that exists in Canada. It applies to the present leader of the Liberal party today.
Maclean’s: Why do you think so many people disagree with the agreement?
Mulroney: I can see the protectionists of
Canada, those who like to build barriers, who have a secure living right now, who are well looked after. It’s the I’m-All-Right-Jack school of Canadians. Those who believe in a little Canada, because within a little Canada, they are pretty big fish. By God, they are going to keep it that way, no matter what it costs everybody else.
Maclean’s: Do you have any plans to soothe Canadian fear son free trade after the election? Mulroney: A lie goes around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on in the morning. You are asking me how we are going to deal with lies, because this is what it is. This is barefaced, wilful misstatement. Anything you build is difficult, challenging and complicat-
ed, and sometimes difficult to explain. To destroy it is fairly simple. Falsehoods have an immediate attraction about them. They appeal to the basest element in society, namely fear.
Canadians are not worried about social programs. The tide has turned. Canadians now understand that they were told a wilful lie about a fundamental part of their heritage. Canadians don’t expect national leaders to go into senior citizens’ homes and tell them things like this. I would then be very concerned about the morality of the person who told me this if it turned out to be false. And what you have emerging here is an enormous question of credibility. If Mr. Turner will say this about medicare and old-age pensions, he’ll stop at nothing in regard to other things. It is obvious that people are catching on.
Maclean’s: You have said that if the deal does not go through, the economic situation is going to worsen. Why?
Mulroney: The program of the Liberals contains all the ingredients for another recession. It is not only the deal not going through, it is a minimum of $37.7 billion of new spending, it is the loss of productivity, it is the loss of economic growth, the loss of investment, the loss of confidence in Canada, the impact on federal-provincial relations, because eight provinces out of 10 would have been repudiated. I don’t know how all these facts could fail to have anything other than a very damaging effect upon the mood of the nation and the manner in which Canada is perceived around the world.
Maclean’s: Are you not contributing to the jitteriness of the markets?
Mulroney: I don’t have to say anything. The markets know exactly what Mr. Turner is up to. You would have to be a child not to understand what would happen. The only way that you create new wealth is to do exactly what we have been doing. Mr. Turner has got tunnel vision back into the 1970s; everything that failed in the 1970s he has now got on the legislative agenda for the 1990s, and all this is in his new reincarnation as an extreme leftwing Liberal. This is new for Mr. Turner. There is a profound philosophical difference between us.
Maclean’s: Could you have done more a year ago to head off uncertainty about free trade? Mulroney: I think we have done a good job. We anticipated a vigorous opposition. You make allowances for the hysteria of some elements of our society, the peripheral elements who love negativism, who just cannot get through the day without a good demonstration. What very few people could have anticipated was the wilful campaign of untruths set out by the Liberals in regard to the concerns of Canadians about social programs, old-age pensions, medicare. I did not expect that anyone would do anything that unworthy. I don’t have any doubts as to what is going to happen on Nov. 21. I think we have got a fight on our hands. Any major initiatives that you bring in to change existing patterns of living, of trade, of social patterns, any time there is a great historical initiative, the apostles of reaction are
front and centre, predicting doom, and they resist to the bitter end. You have got to fight them off. I know that the verdict of history is going to be favorable. I know that I am doing the right thing for Canada. The easy thing would have been to do nothing. The tough thing was to make sure we fought hard to see if we could get the kind of deal that was going to benefit Canada over the next century. We have emerged with an agreement that is the envy of the trading world. The apostles of resistance and reaction are always there. It is the role of the prime minister to provide leadership. Maclean’s: How do you heal the nation after the campaign?
Mulroney: If you go across the country and see who is on the other side, what they are saying, you don’t have to worry about deep divisions. [Turner’s principal secretary] Peter Connolly is reported to have told a group of businessmen in Ottawa last January: ‘Don’t
‘Few people anticipated the wilful campaign of untruths set out by the Liberals about social programs, old-age pensions and medicare’
believe it, we’re really in favor of this thing. We are trying to get a few cosmetic changes in it and then declare a victory and sign the deal.’ The word on the street is widespread. For the Liberals to campaign against the free trade agreement and then sign the agreement would be an act of uncommon hypocrisy. The Liberals have no policy, no program, the worse slate of candidates that the party has fielded in 100 years. They have a leader that, four weeks ago, the caucus was trying to throw out. They have a record of running their own party $6 million in debt. Don’t think for a second that they are incapable of doing a brand-new somersault, even more inelegant ones than in the past. But their gymnastic skills are as impressive as the elasticity of their principles.
Maclean’s: What do you say to reassure those who are anti-American?
Mulroney: I don’t think that I should be seeking to reassure every individual because I know that there are some people who are
completely impervious to reasonable persuasion. What you have to do is make the case for the country. It is extremely difficult to persuade large groups of people in advance of an accomplishment. When it is done, everybody is behind it.
Maclean’s: Free trade has become part of your personal vision of Canada. How do you react to the attacks on it?
Mulroney: I think it is pretty goofy stuff. When [Turner] was in the private sector he was going around saying ‘This is the greatest thing since bottled beer.’ I don’t think he believes a single thing that he says. The only job that John Turner is interested in protecting in Canada is his own. All of a sudden, out of a clear blue sky, he repudiates everything that he stood for. I just watch it and I do my thing.
Maclean’s: This campaign has been an ugly one. Has it dulled your taste for politics? Mulroney: Not at all. I am not concerned about a bunch of goofballs who show up at political meetings. That is the price you pay in a democracy. Nothing that the Liberals do ever surprises me. This is a party entirely bereft of principle and commitment. I have never underestimated it. Its techniques have been successful for it in the past. The Liberals tried it again: they went into senior citizens’ homes. They are going to pay the price of their lives for what they have done. This one, Canadians are going to view as unforgivable. This was an act completely unworthy of anyone who seeks high office in Canada.
Maclean’s: What is president-elect George Bush ’s approach to the agreement? Mulroney: George Bush came up to see me twice over at 24 [Sussex Drive, the Prime Minister’s residence]. This is what we talked about. The second time, he brought [secretary of state nominee] Jim Baker with him—he knows the agreement inside out. He knows the impact on Canada and the United States. I met with him privately before the Toronto summit at his home in Washington at his invitation, where we went through all of it again. Jim Baker negotiated it personally. That’s how deeply Baker and Bush care about this agreement. I spoke to Bush the other night [Nov. 8, after Bush won the presidential election], and he said: ‘Brian, Jimmy Baker is sitting right here, right next to me. You’re going to be pleased about what I am going to say tomorrow about him.’ What he said tomorrow is that the new secretary of state for the United States of America is the guy who negotiated the free trade agreement between Canada and the United States. So Bush knows all about it: he is a very strong defender of free trade. And Jim Baker is going to be the secretary of state. Because of that, if a Canadian government were to tear up the accord, it would create one of the most undignified and preposterous situations for a Canadian prime minister ever to find himself in: to destroy a sovereign treaty and then to turn around and say: ‘By the way, I have thrown this one in the wastepaper basket. I want you to sit down and negotiate another one with me.’ You know the answer to that one. Everybody knows the answer to that one. □
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