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Mordecai Richler and Rick Salutin on free trade

It was the most controversial agreement of its kind in Canadian history. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's vision of free trade with the U.S. read like a Harlequin romance: Canada played the neglected lover, U.S., the negligent partner. Empty promises and veiled threats were all part of the negotiating dance between the world's greatest trading partners. The 1988 Free Trade Agreement was as dry as a stack of legal textbooks and as emotional as battling American cultural domination. It's an issue that still causes heated debate.

Canada and the U.S. have agreed to a free trade agreement in principle but the job is far from over. Now comes the difficult task of hammering out the details in writing. One area that's sparking emotional debate is the future of Canadian culture. Despite Simon Reisman's reassurances that Canadian cultural industries will be protected under the agreement, writers such as Rick Salutin say the deal will kill Canadian culture.

Hogwash, says Mordecai Richler, Canada's beloved curmudgeon. The controversial writer tells CBC's Barbara Frum that cultural nationalists like Salutin have overstated their case. "There's a certain amount of self-pity in the literary community," says Richler. Richler continues to ruffle feathers saying if free trade means that "the dubious wines of Niagara" are displaced by the "far more palatable stuff distilled in California," he would not be displeased.

"There is only so much I'm prepared to drink for my country," says Richler. Salutin tells Richler that if Canada is absorbed into the "ethos of American culture," which is inevitable under the free trade deal, "there won't be anything Canadian about Canadian writing."
• Some prominent writers and artists opposed to free trade included Margaret Atwood, Laurier LaPierre, David Suzuki, Michelle Landsberg and Pierre Berton.
• Free trade proponents — including the Business Council on National Issues, Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Consumers' Association of Canada — argued that the deal would bring more jobs, more investment and increased prosperity for Canada.

• Labour unions, publishers and writers were among those strongly opposed to free trade. The Council of Canadians co-founder, Maude Barlow, was a fierce opponent of free trade. The Council is a citizen's group dedicated to preserving Canadian independence. These anti-free trade forces said the deal would lead to job losses and wage cuts and would threaten Canadian cultural industries and social programs.
Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Nov. 19, 1987
Guest(s): Mordecai Richler, Rick Salutin
Host: Bill Cameron, Barbara Frum
Duration: 8:16

Last updated: February 1, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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