One-sided discussion of free trade avoids key issues

By Ulli Diemer

Letter to Morningside, CBC Radio:

I was driving along in my truck on Wednesday morning listening to the CBC, as usual, when Morningside’s regular business panelists launched into their passionately partisan defense of the free trade deal. I was particularly struck by Richard Osler’s strongly emotional reaction when Peter suggested that ordinary Canadians might conclude that "if it’s good for the ‘fat cats’ it’s bad for us". Mr. Osler insisted that the worst thing we could do is to look at the trade deal in terms of "them and us".

My own reaction was that that is precisely how we should look at it. If anything is certain, it is that some people will do well by free trade, while others will be hurt. Many business people will do well by it: hence their support of the deal. Some sectors of business, such as the textile, printing, and winemaking industries, will be hurt, hence their opposition to it.

In general, the deal promises benefits for those who are – pardon me if I use an ‘old-fashioned’ term – capitalists, and for those who deal in capital, such as investment brokers and economic analysts. But what is good for a male investment dealer is not necessarily good at all for a female textile worker who will be thrown out of work by free trade.

This simple truth makes it not only appropriate, but imperative, to look at the trade deal in terms of whom it hurts and who benefits. Your analysts seemed to be quite unwilling to actually analyze the deal and its impact on different groups in society.

This brings me to the thought that the unanimity of your panelists in supporting a deal opposed by many Canadians points to a problem with your panel. The assumption underlying the ‘business’ panel seems to be that ‘business’ is about mergers, deals, interest rates, and stocks and bonds, and that the people best equipped to talk about business are people who belong to the world of capital and finance. But business is also about the people who actually work in the offices, factories, and farms, who are so profoundly affected by what happens in the world of capital.

Surely it is inappropriate to look at business only from the point of view of businessmen and women. Would it not make for a more balanced panel if it included the viewpoints of the great majority of us who do not deal in capital and corporate takeovers? Are there not knowledgeable economic commentators who could bring a labour or social policy perspective to business trends? Is it really necessary or appropriate to have a panel so exclusively tied to the perspectives of capital?

Ulli Diemer
November 6, 1988