Bluffs Advocate

Opinion Optics

Canada Says Let's Make a Deal

Opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a minority opinion

By Marc Zwelling

            In the way the previous tenant left items in your new apartment, the Liberals found a leftover free-trade deal when they moved in after Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

It's the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade and investment agreement negotiated by 12 countries on the Pacific Ocean, including Canada, the United States, Australia, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, Brunei, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam.

The Harper government gushed over the trade pact, calling it "Canada's foothold in the Asia-Pacific, a region that is expected to comprise two-thirds of the world's middle class by 2030, and one-half of global gross domestic product by 2050."

Justin Trudeau says he's "extremely pro-trade." The new trade minister, Chrystia Freeland, says she's not rushing to approve the deal. Nonetheless, she's tipped her hand.

Freeland told Bloomberg News (May 24), "We are a trading nation. We really understand the importance of Canada being plugged into the global economy, and we are concerned by the rising waves of protectionism we see around the world."

Canadians agree with Freeland. In a 2012 Forum Research national poll, by 62 per cent to 23 per cent, the public said free trade agreements with other countries are "good for Canada's economy." By 56 per cent to 33 per cent, poll respondents agreed "Canada should have free trade agreements with more countries."

The TPP dies in February 2018 if all the governments that signed it early this year don't ratify it by then. Both US presidential candidates are against it, so what Canada does may not count.

There's really no debate about the TPP; most Canadians haven't heard about it. In an Angus Reid Institute poll (January 27-31)32 per cent supported Canada's joining the TPP, 20 per cent opposed it, and 49 per cent didn't know enough about it to say.

In the same survey, 22 per cent expected the TPP will have a positive impact on "employment and jobs in your own area," 31 per cent a negative impact and 46 per cent no impact. But 42 per cent expected a positive impact on the economy and 44 per cent a positive impact on consumer choices.

Canada's last trade debate involved the North American Free Trade Agreement, an explosive issue in 1993 when a Conservative government signed it. Then 58 per cent opposed NAFTA, including 39 per cent who opposed it "strongly."

Two decades later, in an Angus Reid poll in 2014, anti-NAFTA feelings had practically evaporated. Some 34 per cent said NAFTA had benefited Canada, 31 per cent said it hurt, and 35 per cent said it "hasn't had an impact one way or the other."

One hurdle for TPP opponents is that the declining share of jobs in manufacturing has reduced the number of voters who come face-to-face with offshore competition.

Time is on the free traders' side. Protectionists are dying off, replaced by free traders. In the 2014 Reid poll, among people under 35, half (49 per cent) felt NAFTA had benefited the country compared with only 28 per cent who thought so among people 55 and older.

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Marc Zwelling is the founder of the Vector Pollâ„¢ and author of Public Opinion and Polling For Dummies (Wiley, 2012).