For almost 30 years Canadians have grown up in an economic system defined by the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement, the precursor to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
There was widespread uncertainty, if not vocal opposition, to the supposed benefits of the agreement.
The 1988 election would be the last fought over a single national issue. The issue: whether or not Canada should sign the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement, the precursor to NAFTA.
The sitting prime minister, Brian Mulroney, said that a free trade deal with Canada’s southern neighbours would boost prosperity for the average Canadian. His political opponents, Liberal Party leader John Turner and NDP leader Ed Broadbent believed that the deal would effectively erase the border between the two countries and turn Canada into a client state of the U.S.
In the end though, Mulroney won the election and the agreement went into effect a few weeks later on January 1, 1989.
Since then, Canada’s exports have gone from 25 per cent of the country’s GDP for most of the 20th century to 40 per cent in the 1990’s to over 50 per cent in after 2000. The free trade agreement was said to have boosted Canadian manufacturing profits by 1.2 per cent.
But the agreement failed to take on issues that still plague the Canadian-American trade relationship like softwood lumber, mineral rights and supply managed dairy farming. And now, the U.S. is threatening to tear up the agreement that was the source of such a divisive election decades ago. Therefore, did Canada benefit from signing onto NAFTA?