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The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon), Saturday, July 3, 1993

Former law student David Orchard earns full marks
Insightful study of free trade

By Howard McConnell

Almost two decades ago, on looking up from my desk I saw a gimlet-eyed, nervously smiling first-year law student regarding me somewhat anxiously. "I'm afraid I've lost your legal writing assignment," I said. "I've read it through, however, and although I can't hand it back like the others I think it's worth eight out of ten."

"I'm not sure it's that good," reflected David Orchard. "I'd give it about a six." We finally compromised on seven. Although Orchard decided not to pursue further law studies, he finished easily in the top 10 per cent of his first year class of roughly 100 students.

In the passionate debate on free trade that has wracked this country recently, the public has not seen the national chairman of Citizens Concerned About Free Trade as I saw the quiet, rather self-deprecating law student 20 years ago, but tend to regard Orchard as stubborn and humorless. That perception, I think, is quite wrong.

A fourth-generation populist farmer from Borden, Orchard is a committed Canadian nationalist who, unlike the late philosopher George Grant, believes it is not yet too late to reverse the historical tide and preserve a viable Canadian nationality and culture on this continent. The abrogation of the free trade agreement is, however, the necessary precondition.

Although John Crosbie was the only candidate in the 1983 Tory leadership race to advocate free trade, after Brian Mulroney's election as prime minister the following year virtually all of the party leadership altered course. Is there any wonder that many Canadians see this as a token of bad faith?

In the November 1988 federal election which gave Mulroney his second consecutive majority, only luckless John Turner had really opposed free trade, and two months later the unpopular agreement was signed against the wishes of a majority of Canadian people.

Conservatives argued that the continuing recession since that time was not caused by free trade but by hard-to-control global economic forces. Economies of scale facilitated by the deal, however, have prompted the relocation of Canadian industry south of the border. Why would hard-headed managers not advise such a move when U.S. costs are cheaper and there are now no or few adverse tariff barriers?

Orchard argues that free trade has been a disaster for this country and that control of Canada has already passed out of the hands of Canadians into those of the U.S. government. Economic integration is the precursor to political integration.

The first-past-the-post voting system which confers a strong parliamentary majority on a party achieving 40 per cent of the votes in a multi-party state is largely to blame for the present mess. Only an electoral coalition in which the Liberals and the NDP agree not to run candidates against each other, Orchard argues, can bring victory to an anti-free trade coalition. No donations should be made by voters, moreover, until the parties agree to such a coalition.

Perhaps Orchard's broad strategy has much to commend it, but with Audrey McLaughlin's NDP currently running at about eight per cent in the polls, would Jean Chretien's Liberals enter into such an alliance? And are Chretien's Liberals opposed to free trade or do they merely wish to negotiate side deals? With Paul Martin exerting ever greater influence in party councils, the Liberals appear to be more and more gravitating towards big business interests.

The Fight for Canada is not a dry economic treatise, but an intensely readable and thoroughly researched plea for a change of economic course. Orchard writes gracefully, and has been exhaustively investigating the whole area for more than six years. He has done his homework well.

He fleshes out the narrative with fascinating historical sidelights. At a critical moment in 1775-76 French Canadians ensured the country's survival by refusing to support the American invasion of Canada. Neither the Annexation Manifesto of 1849, signed by 1,000 Montreal businessmen and seeking the union of Canada and the United States, nor successive "reciprocity" initiatives succeeded.

There were always Americans, nonetheless, who pressed for a political merger. On one occasion U.S. Congressman (and ex-President) John Quincy Adams asked the clerk of the house to read the second Psalm: "Ask me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." This was scriptural sanction, Adams claimed, for the American occupation of Oregon contrary to British and Canadian claims.

But what grade should his former law professor give Orchard for this enthralling book? Despite his professed modesty, I would give him nine on a 10-point scale. Anyone interested in the free trade controversy can read this book with profit.

McConnell teaches law at the University of Saskatchewan.


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