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Calgary Herald, Wednesday, July 21, 1993

Free-trade battle a lopsided affair

By Robert Bragg

Canada's great trade debate certainly isn't a fair fight and maybe that says it all.

On one side: Almost all the forces of capital, wealth, status and station in Canada stand united in favor.

Opposed: Small, infinitely less rich, disunited bands of Canadian nationalism and the likes of David Orchard.

At issue: Canada's economic future and, many suggest, Canada's political and societal sovereignty.

Ostensibly they quarrel over mere pieces of paper — the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and the North America Free Trade Agreement.

The 1989 bilateral deal and the proposed 1994 extension to include Mexico pits Orchard's organization, Citizens Concerned About Free Trade (CCAFT), against the bodies such as the high powered Business Council on National Issues (BCNI).

Beneath the acronyms and the acrimony, serious issues are being debated in a lopsided contest that makes David and Goliath seem like an even match.

The BCNI, for instance, describes itself as "composed of the chief executive officers of 150 leading Canadian corporations. With about 1.5 million employees, member companies administer in excess of $1 trillion in assets, and have an annual turnover of approximately $390 billion."

Its members include Gargill Ltd., Bechtel Canada Inc., American Express Canada, Inc., 3M Canada Inc., ITT Canada Ltd., IBM Canada Ltd., Ford Motor Company of Canada Ltd., DuPont Canada Inc, General Electric Canada Inc. and General Motors of Canada Ltd.

The CCAFT, on the other hand, is headed by David Orchard, a fourth generation Saskatchewan farmer and author who sells copies of his book—The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism—out of the back seat of his car.

Orchard's is a solitary, but articulate, voice speaking against the trade deals to small but growing audiences of hundreds as he makes his way across Western Canada. Canadian historian Kenneth McNaught describes him as "heir to an old and honourable Canadian tradition: that of the farmer activist."

As such, Orchard distinguishes himself and his organization from other anti-free trade groups such as Maude Barlow's Council of Canadians and Mel Hurtig's National party.

These groups share with him a rather strident anti-American rhetoric, an anti-free-trade commitment and a strong pro-Canadian nationalism.

But they stop short of sharing a common strategy on how to achieve their goals.

Hurtig, a former publisher and author of The Betrayal of Canada, has gone so far as to form is very own National party to contest the federal election, saying the NDP can't and the Liberals and Tories won't, cancel the FTA or NAFTA.

Barlow, who recently issued Take Back The Nation 2, with co-author Bruce Campbell, takes a less partisan stance than Hurtig and argues for pressuring the parties in the upcoming election to drop the deals as a part of a larger economic nationalist strategy.

But Barlow undermines her own credibility by accusing pro-trade advocates of the next best thing to treason and suggesting a conspiracy exists to dismantle the country and sell it to the highest (American) bidder.

Orchard eschews conspiracy theories and sticks to history to make his arguments, which amount to a defence of the nation against a longstanding sense of manifest destiny, emanating from the United States, that Canada is merely an extension of the American empire.

In echoing Sir John A. Macdonald and D'Arcy McGee, Orchard argues that economic domination , as explicitly set up in what he calls the "Forced Trade Agreement," will surely lead to political domination unless it's repealed. In its place Canada and the U.S would revert to trade rules spelled out under the General Agreements on Tarriffs and Trade.

The key to making that happen, he argues, is not to vote National party but to persuade the party which has the best chance of winning the next federal election — the Liberals — to agree, before the vote, to cancel the deal and go back to GATT rules. His group wants 100,000 letters mailed to Jean Chretien before the fall election, calling for the repeal of the FTA. At the moment the Liberals are only committed to renegotiation not cancellation.

Meanwhile, the pro-FTA, pro-NAFTA arguments appear daily in a plethora of background studies, papers, newspaper articles, speeches, and press conferences, and the battle is joined.

In an uncanny way this trade debate mimics in miniature the long struggle of a small nation to avoid being absorbed, conquered or otherwise obliterated by vastly stronger, better equipped, much larger neighbour.

Orchard is firmly in this tradition, but is he the last of an endangered species?


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