Adams and Parkin: One issue on which Canadians aren’t polarized — the U.S. 

Quite a remarkable change. I remember the free trade debates:

It is easy to list the political issues that divide Canadians today. Leaders and parties stand far apart on what to do about health care, climate change and firearms, to name but a few. But before we conclude that our politics is more polarized than ever, let’s remember it is possible to overcome even long-standing divisions and find common ground.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Canada next week brings this into focus. Canada-U.S. relations has been a political flashpoint throughout our history. Typically, one major party was accused of getting too close to the Americans, the other of ignoring the economic benefits that this closeness would bring. Originally, it was the Liberals who sought to strengthen north-south trade while the Tories championed an east-west vision. But by the mid-1980s, the roles had reversed. Views on the United States remained one of the country’s primordial political cleavages, but with the political right now seen as too pro-American.

This dynamic was most evident during the 1988 federal election, fought almost exclusively on free trade. If ever our politics were polarized, it was then. The free trade agreement (FTA) that had been negotiated by Brian Mulroney’s government was supported by 61 per cent of Progressive Conservative party supporters, but by only 21 per cent of Liberals and 17 per cent of those voting NDP. The Mulroney government won re-election despite this heated opposition, and the FTA was ratified — and soon expanded to include Mexico.

At first, acrimony intensified in the early 1990s as the country faced the twin challenges of a recession and a constitutional crisis. But as both of these faded, so did opposition to free trade. By the mid-1990s, more Canadians favoured free trade than opposed it; Liberal supporters in particular became almost as favourable to the policy as Conservatives. By 2000, seven in 10 Canadians favoured the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), including identical proportions of Liberals and Conservatives, and — for the first time — a majority of those supporting the NDP.

Today, the consensus has solidified. Support for NAFTA stands at 83 per cent, including 82 per cent of Conservatives, 89 per cent of Liberals, and (gasp) 84 per cent of NDP supporters. A similarly strong 88 per cent of Bloc Québécois supporters and 82 per cent of those voting Green favour the policy. Thirty-five years after the country squared off in an epic battle over free trade, it has become a non-issue, attracting close to unanimous support among supporters of every party in the House of Commons.

Opposition to free trade melted away in part because it was accompanied, not by the erasure of differences between the two societies, but by their enhancement. It turned out that economic integration did not lead inexorably to the loss of Canada’s cultural distinctness, as Liberal leader John Turner had warned in 1988. This, in turn, has led to a growing public self-confidence about the Canadian identity, especially among younger Canadians and those on the political left — both of whom have become much less likely than they were a generation ago to say that Canadian culture needs to be protected from outside influences.

The growing differences between the political cultures of the two countries speaks to the second reason we are seeing less division in Canada about our relations with the U.S. Those on the political left can no longer accuse Conservatives of being sellouts just because they want to sell more of our products to the Americans. But at the same time, Conservatives must now be wary of criticizing the Liberals for being too anti-American. Canadians’ opinion of the U.S. soured considerably during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Donald Trump and has recovered only partially since Biden’s inauguration. Now is not the time for Pierre Poilievre to hint that Canada’s influence would improve by building closer ties with Washington once Conservatives and Republicans return to office in their respective countries.

Canadians overwhelmingly preferred Biden to Trump in the 2020 election, and he will be warmly welcomed during his visit. But the wider issue of Canada-U.S. relations no longer deeply divides us. Canadians of all political backgrounds have become increasingly wary of the direction in which Americans are headed. We now favour a pragmatic approach, keeping the bridges open to trade, countering buy-American jingoism, mounting joint defence operations to shoot down errant balloons, and otherwise being friendly with our neighbours — but not too friendly.

On some of the biggest issues we have faced, it is possible for Canadians to actually become less polarized than ever before.

Michael Adams is the founder and president of the Environics Institute for Survey ResearchAndrew Parkin is the Institute’s executive director.

Source: Adams and Parkin: One issue on which Canadians aren’t polarized — the U.S.

Foreign workers issue delays trade deals

The higher-end of Temporary Foreign Workers. But given that one of the original cases was in relation to foreign IT workers displacing Canadian IT workers at the Royal Bank, not an easy issue for the Government. Particularly given that in contrast to NAFTA and the upcoming CETA, India is a low-cost supplier of IT services:

While discussions have also been delayed in part because of India’s lengthy election cycle, the fact that foreign workers have emerged as a potential stumbling block has implications for other lucrative trade agreements that Canada hopes to realize. It remains to be seen whether the resounding victory by Narendra Modi, a pro-business Hindu nationalist who heads the Bharatiya Janata Party, will help Canada overcome the impasse.

Rentala Chandrashekhar, the president of the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), which represents India’s IT community, recently visited Ottawa to stress the negative impact Canada’s reforms are having on trade and the potential that further changes could make things worse for both economies.

Mr. Chandrashekhar, a former senior public servant with the Indian government, met with Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, senior officials with Employment Minister Jason Kenney’s department and Don Stephenson, the chief trade negotiator for the Canada-India talks.

“Most important is perception, the perception that the Canadian economy is becoming more closed,” Mr. Chandrashekhar told the Globe. “The perception that walls are being put up … [This] is not something that is very conductive to the kind of environment that you need for pushing forward the idea of a freer trade regime.”

Foreign workers issue delays trade deals – The Globe and Mail.