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Looking back on the Free Trade Agreement

The Story


It signalled a new era in the Canada-U.S. relationship. In 1985, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President Ronald Reagan belted out a rendition of When Irish Eyes Are Smiling that would make their ancestors proud. Their wives, Mila and Nancy, and a host of Canadian celebrities joined the two leaders on stage for a St. Patrick's Day performance that capped a very cozy 24-hour meeting in Quebec City. Reagan's visit officially flung the door open to future free trade talks between the countries. They both agreed on the necessity of free trade, saying that lowering tariffs and other barriers were a way to increase prosperity for both countries. A decade after the historical deal, the CBC's Carol Off asks: Was the agreement good for Canada?"Yes," answers Mulroney pointing to the significant increases in American investment and Canadian imports and exports to the U.S. "No," argue opponents including John Turner. Turner says that the FTA has led to loss of jobs, lowered quality of life and higher unemployment for Canadians. The debate rages on.

Medium: Television
Program: The National Magazine
Broadcast Date: Dec. 10, 1997
Reporter: Carol Off
Guests: Harry Freeman, Brian Mulroney, John Turner, Mel Watkins, Simon Reisman
Duration: 23:51
"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," Lyrics: C. Olcott, G. Graff. Music: E. Ball. ASCAP.

Did You know?


• Free trade became Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's personal crusade after the 1985 summit but that wasn't always the case. During his 1983 Tory leadership campaign, Mulroney had spoken out against such a deal between Canada and the U.S. "The issue of free trade was decided in the election of 1911," said Mulroney, "And it affects Canadian sovereignty and we'll have none of it. Not during leadership campaigns or any other time."

• In 1911 it was the Liberals lead by Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier who negotiated a free trade agreement with the U.S. But before the agreement could be ratified, the newly elected Prime Minister Robert Borden and his Conservatives promptly killed the treaty. Ironically, back then it was the Conservatives who argued it would lead to the Americanization of Canada and the loss of British heritage.

• The first free trade treaty between Canada and the United States was signed in 1854. The treaty was abrogated in 1866.
• Free trade is defined as international trade free from protectionist tariffs quotas, export subsides and other government intervention.

• Canada also entered into free trade agreements with Israel in 1996 and with Chile in 1997.

• American chief negotiator Peter Murphy died in October 1994 due to a lingering illness. He was 46.


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