August 1 1988


August 1 1988


Few events in recent Canadian political history have sparked as much immediate debate as John Turner ’s free trade initiative did last week. Within hours of the Liberal leader’s July 20 announcement that the Senate would delay passage of the government’s free trade legislation until a federal election is called on the issue, prominent Canadians were publicly taking sides. Businessmen, academics, politicians and union organizers contacted by Maclean’s had strong—and widely differing—views on the merits of Turner ’s gamble. Some of the comments:

Free trade advocate Michael Walker, executive director of the Fraser Institute, a conservative Vancouver-based think-tank: “It is strange that Turner would do this because it is an election that he cannot win. By telling Liberal senators to blockade the free trade bill, he is bringing the issue of Senate reform out in the open. I think it is marvellous.”

Jack Munro, Vancouverbased president of the International Woodworkers of America and a free trade opponent: “I lean toward the fact that the Senate should not be used to block the elected representatives. But on free trade, I think that the Conservatives should let us have a God damned vote.”

Donald Getty, Conservative premier of Alberta and a strong proponent of both the

free trade deal and Senate reform: “It is typical of the way the Liberal party has treated the West. They were the instigators of the National Energy Program—it devastated our province. Now with free trade, we have a new economic thrust that favors Alberta, and the Liberals are using Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s appointed Senate to block it. I think it is the ultimate slap at Western Canada by the Liberal party, and I hope the people of Alberta react strongly.”

Mel Hurtig, owner of Edmonton-based Hurtig Publishers Ltd. and an ardent free

trade foe: “What Mr. Turner is doing is very risky. But I was delighted—it is courageous. I would prefer it to have been done via the House of Commons, but the instruments were not available.”

Simon de Jong, New Democratic Party MP for Regina East, whose party opposes

the free trade bill: “It’s not going to fly in the West.”

University of Toronto historian Michael Bliss, an outspoken free trade supporter: “It is deplorable. The leader of the opposition is going to tell us what issues are important enough to have an election on. It is profoundly undemocratic. It really is the old Liberal arrogance which one would have thought was beaten out of them when they were reduced to 40 seats.”

Robert Bourassa, Liberal premier of Quebec and an ally of Prime Minister Brian

Mulroney in the campaign to promote free trade: “If it had been a question of Meech Lake, I would be intervening. But I don’t see a reason to break the tradition of nonintervention which Quebec observes in federal campaigns.”

Jean Benoît, Quebec Liberal party president: “I find it a little difficult to follow what Mr. Turner wants to do on free trade sometimes. First he said he wanted to tear up the agreement. Now he says he wants to hear what the people of Canada want before he tears it up.”

Historian George Grant, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University: “I am not in favor of too great an alliance with the United States, but in the Canadian form of government the House of Commons rules. The Senate does not have the right to delay things indefinitely. I really think we need to reform our Senate.”

Archibald McLean, senior vice-president of Florenceville, N.B.-based McCain Foods Ltd., a former federal Conservative candidate and opponent of the free trade agreement: “John Turner is doing the only thing that he can do, and if Brian Mulroney were in his shoes he would do exactly the same. The Tory government does not want to pay attention to the facts. The free trade deal as it relates to agriculture is a disaster.”

Robert Shaw, vice-president of Halifax-based National Sea Products Ltd. and a free trade supporter: “I think it is an inappropriate use of the Senate. I say this as someone who was an active Liberal for some years. My feeling is that Turner is playing into the hands of Mr. Mulroney.”

Paul Burgwin, Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ Union organizer and spokesperson for the Halifax-Dartmouth Coalition Against Free Trade: “I applaud Turner for what he did. There is nothing unconstitutional about it.” □