Much Ado About Free Trade? Examining the Role of Discourse and Civil Society in Framing the Anti-Free Trade Debate, 1985-1988

Title: Much Ado About Free Trade? Examining the Role of Discourse and Civil Society in Framing the Anti-Free Trade Debate, 1985-1988
Authors: Roerick, Kyle
Date: 2012
Abstract: The well-known outcome of the 1988 federal election – a Conservative Party majority in Parliament and an effective “yes” to the question of whether or not the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States was desired – tends to obscure the importance of the process by which a large non-party based opposition movement sought to cultivate and organize the public’s understanding of the election’s central premise. While the opposition movement failed to have Prime Minister Brian Mulroney removed from power, the discursive process that the movement both created and was the driving force behind, is key to understanding the historical context of the debate over free trade itself. This thesis will illustrate that there existed a discursive process amongst the efforts of the anti-free trade movement from 1985-1988 to cultivate, organize, and mobilize public opposition to Mulroney’s neo-liberal economic policies, through re-framing those objections into a larger and more deeply-rooted Canadian historical narrative. A discourse analysis was conducted using the various public education materials produced by major anti-free trade civil society organizations in Canada. The examination of that discourse revealed three major stages in the overall process: First, organizations relied heavily on classic paradigms of an anti-continentalist narrative to reinforce what was different between the two countries creating an us and them paradigm and building a case for Canadian exceptionalism. Second, there was an intensification of the us and them language into a more defined us versus them, or them against us, dichotomy. Third, the anti-free trade movement sought to effectively translate the previously established civic opposition into pragmatic political action in preparation for a national election campaign. The results show that there was an evolution in the ways members of the civil society opposition framed and evolved their arguments in order to turn their “issues” into more of a “crisis.” By employing (and expanding on) discursive tools used within that public narrative to generate fear of the other to validate illusions of self, and to construct believable threats to the collective, the more “micro” discussion over the growing pervasiveness of neo-liberalism took on a hyper-nationalistic and symbolic routine, one that mirrored the iconic political and electoral debates in 1891 and 1911, both of which had also been based upon the potential for free trade with the United States. Most of all, the evidence points to a popular opposition movement against free trade, which not only significantly pre-dated the official political opposition, but in some respects created its message and focus.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -