||Sovereignty Sell Out
by Sheldon Gordon
LAWRENCE MARTIN has not exactly launched a fresh line of attack on Brian Mulroney`s prime ministry by accusing him of selling out Canada`s sovereignty to You-Know-Who. The professional nationalists Maude Barlow (A Parcel of Rogues) and Mel Hurtig (The Betrayal of Canada) have previously authored book-length polemics with that very message.
But give Martin some credit. Pledge of Allegiance shows more intellectual honesty in pursuit of that lachrymose theme. For one thing, the author doesn`t swallow whole the claims of labour-cum-NDP propagandists that the Free Trade Agreement negotiated by the Tories with Washington is responsible for all the jobs lost in the recession.
Indeed, Martin seems to recognize, at least some of the time, that Canada had proceeded far along the road to free trade with the Americans well before Mulroney arrived on the scene (80 per cent of trade between the two countries already crossed the border duty-free), and that the FTA was a logical culmination - if only it had been complemented by effective macroeconomic and other policies.
As Martin points out, it certainly made no sense to gamble Canada`s economic future on full economic integration with the United States and then introduce, as the
Mulroneyites did, a high-interest-rate policy that pushed up the value of the Canadian dollar and made it impossible to take advantage of the easier access to the US market.
Just as important, the Conservatives should have built up national institutions, especially cultural ones, to offset Canada`s tighter economic embrace with the United States. instead, as Martin notes, nationbuilding institutions such as VIA Rail and the CBC were weakened by Ottawa, and Mulroney undercut attempts by his cultural ministers to pursue more nationalistic policies on film distribution and book publishing.
These are legitimate criticisms, which even some continentalists would endorse. But a few caveats are in order. First, it was anticipated that a more productive Canadian economy resulting from the FTA would generate the revenues needed to bolster federally funded institutions. That didn`t happen, but it might have if the recession hadn`t intervened. Even at that, unifying institutions such as medicare and regional incentive grants have been maintained, despite dire prophecies from Barlow and Hurtig that the FTA would spell their doom.
Second, while it is true that the policies of cultural nationalism cited above were eminently sensible and could have been implemented without any cost to the deficitriddled treasury, it`s unlikely they would have had more than a marginal impact in bolstering our national consciousness.
Indeed, Martin is painfully correct when he notes elsewhere that the major effect of opening the border was not so much on the Canadian economy as on the Canadian psyche and symbols: how else to explain the easy infiltration of the Canadian Football League by two US franchises and the sudden interest of Canadian sports buffs in basketball and college football games south of the border?
Martin has mixed results in his attempts to examine how the backgrounds of key players in the free-trade push made them susceptible to the lure of the American market. He expounds the accurate but shopworn theme that Mulroney was a lackey of Americans throughout his life -from his childhood days in Baie Comeau, Quebec, where he sang for the US newspaper baron Robert McCormick, to his stint as head of the Iron Ore Company, when he shut down Schefferville, Que., for its US parent Hanna Mining, to his eagerness as PM to abolish the National Energy Program and the Foreign Investment Review Agency without seeking any reciprocal concessions from then US president Ronald Reagan.
More original, but less valid, is Martin`s focus on the "border boys" those Canadian free-trade advocates whose comfort level with the Yanks had been shaped by their formative years spent in border communities close to the United States.
This is certainly relevant in the case of Derek Burney, who was the PM`s chief of staff when the FTA was negotiated, and perhaps also in the case of Tom D`Aquino, the chief lobbyist for the big-business Business Council on National Issues. But the two other "border boys" given lengthy treatment by Martin are a cabinet minister and a civil servant who were mere ciphers in the policy-making process. They seem to have acquired an inflated significance by giving Martin colourful quotes.
This forcefully argued, breezily writ ten account has its share of flaws, but at least it makes an intelligent argument for the nationalist road not taken. Kim Campbell, please note.