With eye on the clock, Canada's leader presses for free-trade OK. He's likely to get it, but not without lengthy opposition arguments
Montreal — Canada's new members of the House of Commons may find little time for Christmas shopping. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has called parliament into session today to pass legislation implementing the free-trade agreement with the United States. His Progressive Conservative government will press for the bill's passage with only five or six days of debate, so the pact can begin Jan. 1 as planned. But opposition Liberal Party leader John Turner has already said that ``We are not going to be bound by any deadlines.''
That could mean days of speeches, since Liberals and New Democratic Party have indicated they want a thorough debate.
Actually, Canadians have been discussing free trade heatedly for about two years. The 123-page bill was passed by the House Aug. 30, but died in the Senate on Oct. 1 when Mr. Mulroney dissolved Parliament for an election in November.
That election, fought largely on the free-trade issue, returned the Conservatives to power with 170 of the 295 House seats.
The government will have no problem ending the debate or obtaining passage of the bill in the House. And in the appointive Senate, the majority Liberals have promised not to block the measure.
A new public opinion poll shows support for free trade has risen to 44 percent from 34 percent at election time. Thirty-eight percent of the electorate oppose the pact. But the argument over free trade is not over. An anti-free trade group, the Pro-Canada Network, has been urging the opposition to amend the legislation with guarantees of protection for social and regional development programs.
Although the government says such provisions are unnecessary, it is considering measures to assuage the fears of those opposed to free trade. These may include setting up a parliamentary committee on trade and promoting existing adjustment-assistance programs for workers whose jobs have been lost as a result of enlarged imports from the US and Canadian plant closures.
The free-trade pact provides for the elimination of tariffs - some immediately, some over as much as 10 years - and the removal of other barriers to commerce.
The government created an advisory committee on adjustment last year. It is to submit recommendations by June.
In the meantime, both pro- and anti-free traders are using any opportunity to promote their positions. When President Reagan announced Tuesday his decision to keep a tariff on Canadian cedar-wood shakes and shingles, International Trade Minister John Crosbie said the free-trade arrangement will make a repetition of such protectionist measures by the US ``far more difficult, if not impossible.''
Mr. Crosbie said, however, that the deal will not eliminate all the trade differences with the US in the future.
``There will be dozens of them, just as there [have] been in the past,'' he said.
But the mechanism in the trade pact for dealing with trade disputes should produce better results, he said.
The tariff on cedar shakes and shingles, initially set at 35 percent 2 years ago, dropped as scheduled to 20 percent last week. Mr. Reagan said it would be lowered to 10 percent a year later, and 5 percent for a final six month period - improvements on the original schedule.
The protective duty was imposed after US forestry companies complained that US$250 million worth of low-priced imports from Canadian mills had virtually destroyed the US industry.