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1988 leaders' debate (highlights)

After months of anticipation and weeks of campaigning, it all comes down to one night. Televised leaders' debates can be the defining moments of federal election campaigns, a couple of hours that can make or break a politician's chances of running the country. From Pierre Trudeau's 1968 small screen debut to the fireworks and finger pointing of Mulroney vs. Turner and ending in 2011, the CBC Digital Archives presents each of the English debates from 1968 to 2011. Follow the news recaps with the "highlights" clips, or watch the debates in their entirety.

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Free trade is the dividing issue that caused this election, and this new Canada-U.S. pact dominates the 1988 leaders' debate. Don Newman and Wendy Mesley recap some of the highlights of this English-language debate, including Liberal Leader John Turner's thundering accusation that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney "sold us out" by pursuing the deal. Turner and New Democrat Leader Ed Broadbent butt heads over defence and free trade as CBC News brings you some of the most heated exchanges from the 1988 English debate.
• The argument over a Canada-U.S. free trade pact was, at this point, more than a century old. Sir John A. Macdonald won the 1878 election touting his protectionist National Policy, while his Liberal opponent Wilfrid Laurier supported free trade. Laurier eventually came into power and ruled for 15 years, but lost the 1911 election again after championing free trade.  

• Turner's fierce opposition to the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is what ultimately triggered the 1988 election. Turner urged the Liberal-dominated Senate to block a vote on the deal, and the move forced the dissolving of Parliament, leading to an election.

•  Turner's tactic was criticized as a misuse of the unelected Senate. Turner defended his move, telling the CBC's Bill Cameron, "I believe if Canadians are given a choice to vote on this trade deal, people will reject it."

• To help shore up support with voters, the prime minister enlisted U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who said the deal was crucial for the ongoing economic relationship of the two countries.

• Turner called the endorsement, which came a week before the November election, an example of "a lame duck trying to rescue a dead duck."

• In spite of Turner's strong showing at the debates, Brian Mulroney's Tories triumphed again at the polls on Nov. 21, 1988, winning a majority 169 seats. The Liberals took 83, while the New Democratic Party won a record 43 seats under Ed Broadbent.

• Mulroney's win marked the first time that a leader had won two consecutive majority governments since Liberal Louis St-Laurent was re-elected in 1953.

• Though he lost the election, Turner more than doubled his party's seats in Parliament, from 38 to 83. He also won the popular vote in five provinces, including Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Northwest Territories.

• The FTA received final parliamentary approval on Dec. 30, after being passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Reagan on Sept. 28.

• The FTA only lasted until 1994, when the North American Free Trade Agreement, which also included Mexico, superseded it.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Oct. 25, 1988
Guest(s): Ed Broadbent, Brian Mulroney, John Turner
Anchor: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Wendy Mesley, Don Newman
Duration: 9:50

Last updated: July 15, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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