Canada: after the vote, healing

TWO in a row doesn't sound like much of a winning streak. But the election victory of Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his Progressive Conservatives is a first in 35 years: This is the first time since 1953 that a majority government in Canada has served two successive terms. More important, the Tory win virtually guarantees Canadian ratification of the free-trade pact with the United States. The pact, along with the popular concerns that it represented a sellout of Canadian national sovereignty, was the principal issue in the election. Mr. Mulroney is expected to call Parliament into session early next month for a vote on the pact, which is to take effect Jan. 1, with a 10-year phase-in.

The Tories have an outright majority in the House of Commons - 169 seats out of 295 - but one reduced from 211. The two opposition parties, the Liberals and the New Democrats, that opposed the trade pact both gained in the Commons, from 40 seats to 82 and from 30 seats to 44, respectively.

Just a few days ago, the Liberals had developed a double-digit lead in the polls over the Tories. Those who claimed that the Liberal support was fairly soft evidently proved right. In the closing days of the campaign, the Tories shifted the debate to the costs of failure to ratify the trade pact.

In this they certainly had the support of the business community and of Reagan administration officials, speaking off the record to avoid charges of interference, and even of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

At issue was not only the accord itself, but Canada's overall credibility as a negotiator. The suggestion made by pact opponents that the overall accord could be replaced piecemeal by ``sectoral'' accords was widely hooted down by those familiar with the negotiating process.

Even with the trade pact ratified, however, Mulroney will have his work cut out for him. Paradoxically, he managed his turnaround in the polls - including the one that matters most, the one taken in the voting booth - even while opponents of the trade pact apparently continued to outnumber proponents by a million or so.

This is explained partly by voter perceptions that Mulroney is simply a better leader than John Turner, whose tenure as Liberal Party leader has been marred by considerable infighting. Moreover, many were apparently persuaded by misinformation put out by opponents of the treaty.

We support the free-trade pact and congratulate Mulroney on his victory. But those on opposite sides of this divisive issue need to be brought together, and it is heartening that in his victory speech, he stressed the need for unity and called for ``a time for healing in the land.''

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Canada: after the vote, healing
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today