Twenty years after Canada and the United States negotiated the controversial Free Trade Agreement, most North Americans believe the deal fueled economic growth, according to a new poll.
The FTA was finalized in October 1987 and was designed to erase trade restrictions between the two countries. Critics worried it would erode Canada’s sovereignty.
But 77 percent of Americans and 73 per cent of Canadians now believe free trade is crucial to North America’s continued prosperity, according to an exclusive poll for Policy Options magazine that was provided to CTV News.
The survey was conducted by SES Research.
Among Canadians, 57 per cent of respondents said their country would be worse off without free trade. For Americans, it was 55.6 per cent.
By contrast, exactly one quarter of Canadians said their country would be better off without free trade, while 19.1 per cent of Americans said the same.
“Although we may feel we’re taken for granted some of the time, the reality is that for a lot of Americans, trading with Canada is a no-brainer,” SES pollster Nik Nanos told CTV News.
In 1988, a political attack ad targeting Brian Mulroney, whose government helped forge the FTA, depicted officials from Canada and the U.S. looking at a map of North America. In the climax, the U.S. official took out an eraser to rub out the border.
Simon Reisman was Canada’s chief negotiator for the FTA, and said he worked hard to get the best deal for Canada.
“We got it, we didn’t get it all. We left a little for posterity,” he said. “And now 20 years have gone by.”
The FTA was superseded by the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, which brought in Mexico as another major trade partner.
When respondents were asked if they supported strengthening economic integration between Canada and the U.S., 67 per cent of Canadians said yes.
The poll also covered another sovereignty issue: the movement of people between Canada and the U.S.
Despite heightened concerns about terrorism since the attacks of 9/11, the survey found that 58 per cent of Americans supported the free movement of people across the border — although 29.8 per cent only “somewhat supported” the idea.
For Canadians, it was a total of 64 per cent.
And when asked if respondents supported or somewhat supported creating a more integrated rail, highway and air transportation infrastructure between the two countries, a total of 72 per cent of Canadians backed the idea.
Americans were only slightly less enthusiastic at 67 per cent.
“This should be a bit of a reality check for American legislators down in Washington, that for Americans, when they view Canadians, they see the future as more access,” said Nanos.
Canadian business leaders said the survey should help them to convince U.S. politicians to stop focusing on tighter border control.
“The concerns that Americans have about terrorists coming from Canada is not a widely shared concern among Americans,” said Thomas D’Aquino of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.