It s now more than thirty years ago on October 4th 1987 that Canada ,under the direction of the then Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney , agreed to a free trade agreement with the United States. In doing so it abandoned a near century old position that after the failure of reciprocity under Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier, Canada had adhered to the independent economic and social development of a separate Canadian vision of the northern half of North America . We built a very successful , not without imperfections and some failures, nation state that we now identify as a precious contribution to democratic diversity. We did so through creative federalism and co-operative compromise. The Canadian federation has protected and nurtured a linguistic partnership of two of the western world’s great cultural communities with immigrants drawn from all over the world building the nation and the nations within.
At the time of this original agreement which over time developed into NAFTA there were many critical voices in the intellectual community and in the national Liberal party and the social democratic New Democratic Party that warned the agreement in the long run might threaten both the prosperity and the ethical values of an independent Canada. Trade liberalization is not two dimensional winners versus losers. It is , if is to be successful, mutually nurturing as well as enhancing freedoms and prosperity. Like any serious relationship it must not be rushed into under the pressure of circumstance. It is complex not simple. There is in this era of globalization much to be debated.The Canadians need to resist the pressure to sign immediately onto an agreement that has already been established without their participation on terms that may turn out to be very unattractive in the years to come. There are domestic political considerations as well as federal considerations and not just economic ones that need to be weighed in the balance. We must not forget that energy self sufficiency is an asset and not a burden. Trade diversification on better terms is also possible.
Canada is a vast storehouse of resources both natural and human that will grow in value over the coming years. We need to be mindful of these facts in the days to come.