A quarter of a century later, Canadians remain split on whether the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States has made them better or worse off. But they are keen to sign new ones with Europe and the Pacific region.
A new survey from Nanos Research shows 33 per cent of Canadians believe the FTA with the United States has left the country better off, while 26 per cent believe we are worse off. Another 16 per cent say it has had no impact whatsoever.
Canadians are even more skeptical when it comes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which includes Mexico, as only 28 per cent say it has left Canada better off.
Not surprisingly, considering the province's support for the FTA in the 1980s, Quebecers are most likely to think the FTA and NAFTA have been positive for the country: 36 per cent for the FTA and 31 per cent for NAFTA. Ontarians, on the other hand, are most likely to believe the agreements have left us worse off. As there is some debate over what effect NAFTA has had on the manufacturing sector in Canada, it's understandable that Ontario would be the province most pessimistic about the agreements.
But despite this rather mixed view on what effect the free trade agreements with the United States and Mexico have had on the country, Canadians believe new agreements with the European Union and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could yield positive results.
Fully 40 per cent of Canadians think a free trade agreement with the EU would have a positive or somewhat positive effect on the economy, with only 16 per cent saying the effect would be negative. Canadians have a similar view on an agreement with the TPP, with 42 per cent saying it would be positive and 18 per cent negative.
There are some regional variations, however. Whereas Ontarians are the least convinced on the positive impact of NAFTA, they are the most bullish on an agreement with the EU. And British Columbians are most likely to feel an agreement with the TPP would be good for Canada at 49 per cent. Conversely, Quebecers are least likely to be keen on such a deal.
Perhaps the most interesting difference in support is among Canadians of different age groups. Canadians between the ages of 20 and 29 are most likely to consider free trade with other countries to be a good thing, while Canadians over the age of 50 are more evenly divided. But these older Canadians are also more opinionated -- they have some of the highest scores for both positive and negative views on free trade.
Canadians between the ages of 30 and 49, however, are the least likely to believe the current free trade agreements in place, or those that could potentially be signed, are good things for the country. These Canadians would have been between the ages of five and 24 when the debate over free trade was dividing the country. As it took place in their formative years, perhaps these Canadians attach more negative connotations to the idea of free trade.
But with strong opinion in favour of new free trade agreements, there is good reason why the Conservative government and even the NDP are pushing for these sorts of deals. Talking up the advantages of NAFTA and the closer links with the colossus to the south may be more delicate, but Canadians have few qualms with opening up new markets across the oceans.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.
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