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Reciprocity or free trade has been an issue in Canada since before it was a state. As colonies in North America developed, trading with other colonies within close proximity and with desirably products had been a standard practice. The mother countries had imposed various duties and restrictions on trade but whether it was legal or illegal, if the desire one both side was there, the trading usually took place.

One of the initial problems that Canada faced in 1867 was the closing of American markets because of the cancellation of the reciprocity treaty. This was eventually developed into a part issue with the Conservatives favouring the development of more trade with England to compensate for the weakness in US markets and the Liberals trying, unsuccessful, to open up those markets.  By the time Macdonald ran for the last time, his national policy was one which encouraged east-west trade in order to develop a unique Canadian nation, identity and economic system rather then North South trade with the U.S.

When Brian Mulroney came to power he was determined to build a new economic relationship with the United States which President Reagan was also in favour of. By the time the 1988 election was called, the Free Trade Agreement, FTA, had become the central election issue and one on which emotions ran high. John Turner, the Liberals and the NDP all claimed that by signing the FTA, Canada would be giving up large amount of sovereignty to the US, and would be slowly dominated by an influx of American money, influence and eventually control. Turner also claimed that unique social services such as Medicare would be in jeopardy and Canada would lose control of it's monetary policy.


Mulroney and the Conservatives argued that the economic benefits to be gained by creating a North American Free Trade bloc would more then compensate for any negative impact evolving trade would have. Mulroney tried to reassure the electorate that social programs would be safe, Canadian identity would be safe and the natural resources of the country would be used to benefit Canadians.

The debate between the leaders, during the election, were highly charged and confrontational. The Conservatives won he election with a majority of seats but they did not receive a majority of the vote which revealed a highly split national opinion. The FTA bill was passed by the Conservatives but the extension of it to Mexico an the long process of ratification did not see the final version emerge until the 1990's and when Jean Chretien became Prime Minister, rather then cancel or renegotiate the agreement, he added two additional agreements.

The final agreement was ratified by the US Congress on November 17th, 1993 by 34 votes in the House and 23 votes in the Senate. The agreement took effect on January 1, 1994 and many of the catastrophic events predicted by its opponents have failed to materialize while some of the difficulties anticipated have emerged. The black and white question framed by Turner and Mulroney, in the end,  turned out to  be one of shades of grey with generally more benefits then costs.