In a wide-ranging interview with the CBC's Amanda Lang set to appear on Thursday's Lang & O'Leary Exchange, the former prime minister said he remains firmly in favour of the ground-breaking agreement.
"Generally speaking it's been a success," he said of the deal that was pitched as a was to give Canadian exporters special access to the lucrative U.S. economy.
Critics of the agreement argue the pact has helped outsource Canadian jobs, and not really helped the country take a bigger proportionate piece of the trade pie. Canada's share of total American imports is now lower than it was when the deal was struck, critics note, and at 19 per cent of gross domestic product, the value of Canadian exports to the U.S. is in relative terms at about the same level as before the deal.
But from Mulroney's perspective, the economic advantages are obvious. In absolute terms, trade between between Canada and the United States has quadrupled, making the value of trade between Canada and the U.S. the largest amount between any two countries in the history of the world.
"Seven hundred and fifty billion a year is astonishing," Mulroney said. "[There have been] millions of jobs created."
But perhaps more important than the numbers are the less tangible impacts, the former prime minister argued.
"The one that was a little bit of a surprise, but welcome, was the … attitudinal change it brought about."
Engaging so intimately with the world's largest economy was good for Canadians in more nuanced ways, and dire predictions that Canada would be colonized by the United States never came to pass, Mulroney said.
"The only thing we lost was [our] insecurity complex vis a vis the Americans," he said. "It's made Canadians much more confident, less timorous, less fearful and more sure of themselves and more outward looking."
"Canadians have become the happy warriors because they've competed head to head on the american battlefield and they won."
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