TORONTO, ON – Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney brought a message about the importance of leadership and free trade to fleet executives in Toronto today, at a time when the trade agreements he championed are being challenged and renegotiated.
In a speech to the Ontario Trucking Association’s annual meeting, Mulroney referred to NAFTA discussions as “the most important international negotiations in modern history” for Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. And he drew on a series of statistics to prove his point about the value of trade.
“The statistics alone speak to the success of the (Canada-U.S.) Free Trade Agreement,” he said, noting how trade between the countries has tripled since 1989. “With less than 7% of the world’s population, NAFTA produces 29% of the world’s wealth.”
While U.S. President Donald Trump has referred to NAFTA as a terrible deal, Mulroney stressed that our southern neighbors have “done extremely well”, referring to the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.1% as an example.
“If the U.S. is to maintain its role in world leadership … it must ensure its great economy does not falter or fail, because such failure would soon jeopardize and ultimately eviscerate the American capacity to persuade other nations to share its prescriptions for peace and prosperity around the world,” he said.
The presentation was laden with jokes, political war stories, and quotes about leadership, but there was also a general theme of leaders focusing on the best decisions rather than short-term gains.
“I am persuaded that the highly talented and capable team put together by Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau, will do a top-flight job for our country. This will result in a modernized NAFTA that will continue to produce tremendous results for all three countries including the millions and millions of new jobs that our children and grandchildren require,” he said. “Only very foolish people would seek to upset this majestic reality.”
The former Progressive Conservative prime minister is also serving as an advisor to the current Liberal government during the negotiations.
“Political capital is required to be spent in great causes for one’s nation. This is precisely such a time. Presidents and prime ministers are not chosen to seek popularity. They are chosen to provide leadership. There are times when the voters must be told not what they want to hear, but what they’ve got to know,” he added.
“Much of what we are witnessing these days in the U.S. reflects similar emotions of fear and anger, stimulated in large part by the sense that government is dysfunctional or detached from public sentiments, that the global system of trade and investment is tilted against American interests. That happens to be false, but that’s what Americans have been told,” Mulroney said.
In contrast, he noted that the best antidote to a spirit of protectionism is more liberalized trade that stimulates economic growth and stronger employment.
“Canada has the privilege of having the United States as a neighbor and friend. And the United States should get down on its knees every bloody morning and thank the stars that they’ve got Canada on their northern border,” he said to applause. “This is the most successful and peaceful bilateral relationship in history and one that must be cherished and enhanced by our leadership in a manner that is thoughtful, understanding, and wise.”
Quoting former English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, he said: “That long frontier from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, guarded only by neighboring respect and honorable obligations, is an example to every country.
“That is the leadership challenge confronting the NAFTA negotiators today — to conduct themselves in such a way, in an atmosphere of robust discussions, leavened by a spirit of reasonable compromise, that the product of their successful efforts will be viewed by history as a wise and powerful enhancement of Churchill’s words.”