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Whether you agree with the authors or not, the October edition of Policy Options magazine, published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, offers more than 80 pages on the impact of the free trade agreement with the United States.

Of particular interest to labour watchers is Robin Sears’s feature article “The Impossible Deal”. In it, Sears takes issue with labour’s battle against the FTA back in the 1980s when then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was singing Irish ditties with U.S. President Ronald Reagan while many Canadians feared for their jobs.

Based on his reading of history, Sears, then national secretary of the New Democratic Party, steered Ed Broadbent away from an anti-FTA campaign in the 1988 federal election. The decision pitted labour against the party brain trust led by Sears and turned some unions away from the NDP. Sears singles out the Canadian Auto Workers for pushing its members to vote Liberal to stop Mulroney from getting re-elected.

During the televised debate, Broadbent, who was riding higher in the polls than any other leader, relinquished the free trade high ground to Liberal leader John Turner, who instantly became Captain Canada. As it turned out, Mulroney won the election with a reduced majority and the NDP, in spite of the failure to campaign against free trade, won 43 seats, more than it had ever won before.

One can’t help but wonder how many more seats the NDP might have won if Sears had read history differently and held the party to the anti-FTA campaign strategy that much of labour was primed to support.

For the complete article, go to www.irpp.org.