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Free Trade

Negotiations for free trade between Canada and the United States began in May 1986. Both countries came to a deal in October 1987. Supporters of free trade thought it would “create jobs, attract foreign investment, and provide access to American consumers” (CBC Learning, 2001). Opponents believed it would harm Canadian manufacturers and create dependence on the US.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the Progressive Conservative Party ran on a platform of supporting the free trade deal in 1988, despite having opposed free trade in the past. There were heated debates over this issue but Mulroney was successful in winning a second term.

Free Day Care...Not Free Trade button

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The free trade deal was opposed by many feminists who called on the government to focus on issues like childcare ("Free Day Care not Free Trade", n.d.). 750 of these buttons were distributed in 1988, around the time of the election (Prentice, n.d.). Childcare was a significant topic of discussion in the lead up to the election after the government introduced the Canada Child Care Act, Bill C-144 in August. The Canadian Day Care Advocacy Association released a critique of the bill, arguing that it restricted funding, ignored the needs of low-income families, and worsened the quality of care, amongst other faults (“Bill C-144: A Critique of the Proposed Canada Child Care Act”, 1988).

Free Canada Trade Mulroney button

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This button is one of many that opposed the Free Trade deal with the United States. The slogan was a popular one, as Andrew H. Malcolm pointed out in an article for the New York Times: “ ’Free Canada, Trade Mulroney’ is a sign that confronts the Prime Minister at most stops” (Malcolm, 1988, para. 3). It appeared on t-shirts, buttons, and placards waved by demonstrators.

The manufacturer is listed in the fold as Cavan Spec. Advtg. and includes a phone number with a Toronto area code. Cavan is an advertising company that opened in 1985. They are known today as Cavan Advertising. The button also has an Allied Printing Trades Council label in the fold.

Free Trade