Canadians and Americans agree ”” free trade has been good for both Canada and the United States, and both countries would be worse off without it. Furthermore, two-thirds of Canadians and Americans agree free trade is the foundation to compete globally. And three out of four Canadians and Americans agree free trade is important to enhancing North America’s prosperity.
These are among the principal findings of an SES Research poll conducted exclusively for Policy Options in conjunction with its special issue to be released October 3 on the 20th anniversary of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. The special issue features articles by leading trade policy authorities in both Canada and the United States, as well as a 20-year economic impact study by Royal Bank of Canada.
The SES Research poll was conducted on-line on September 17 and 18, among representative random samples of 1,083 Canadians and 1,087 Americans, and each sample is considered accurate to within a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent, 19 times out of 20.
Canadians and Americans are confident about the future. In spite of border security concerns in the wake of 9/11, a strong majority of Americans, and nearly two-thirds of Canadians, are in favour of enhancing the free movement of people between Canada and the United States. Three Americans in four and two Canadians in three favour stronger economic ties between Canada and the United States.
Wide majorities in both countries ”” two-thirds of Canadians and nearly three-quarters of Americans ”” favour building a more integrated railway, highway and air trans- portation system between Canada and the United States.
The Free Trade Agreement is seen as a success and the level of confidence runs high across the board ”” in all regions of both countries, in all age groups and among all educational demographics.
What is most striking about the results was that in both Canada and the United States the intensity of support for free trade in many instances was 10 times stronger than the intensity against it on a number of elements.
However controversial and contested the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement was 20 years ago, the results have clearly been beneficial to both economies, and have bol- stered confidence in the prospects of deepening economic integration going forward.
In several years of our SES Research project on public opinion in Canada and the United States, which we conduct annually with the State University of New York at Buffalo, we have seldom polled a public policy issue on which Canadians and Americans so consis- tently agreed.
In our poll, coinciding with the special Policy Options issue on the 20th anniversary of the FTA, 57 percent of Canadians and 55.6 percent of Americans said their country would be worse off without free trade between Canada and the United States. While 25 percent of Canadians said Canada would be better off, only 19.1 percent of Americans said they would better off without free trade.
As for the importance of free trade to enabling their countries to compete globally, Canadians and Americans agreed. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not at all important and 10 extremely important) 69 percent of Canadians and 71 percent of Americans gave it an importance rat- ing of 7 or greater. Only 2.4 percent of Americans and 3.2 percent of Canadians said it was not at all important.
Again, on a scale of 1 to 10 from not at all to extremely important, 73 percent of Canadians and 77 percent of Americans rated the importance of free trade a 7 or higher on the issue of ensur- ing North America’s future economic prosperity. Only 2.7 percent of Canadians and 1.6 percent of Americans said it was not at all important.
Significantly, the intensity of importance was astonishingly high. Both Canadians and Americans were on average 10 times more likely to say free trade was extremely important to competing globally and ensuring eco- nomic prosperity than those that said free trade was not at all important for those two areas.
Going forward, 64 percent of Canadians support (36.6 percent) or somewhat support (27.1 percent) the free movement of people between Canada and the United States. And despite the security concerns arising from the events of 9/11, 58 percent of Americans support (28.1 percent) or somewhat support (29.8 percent) the free movement of people across the Canada-US border.
When we asked Canadians about deepening economic integration, 67 percent of Canadians supported (35.2 percent) or somewhat supported (31.6 percent) stronger economic ties between Canada and the United States. Only 12 percent of Canadians were opposed or somewhat opposed.
Finally, when we asked about improving transportation ties between our two countries, Canadians (72 percent) and Americans (67 percent) were over- whelmingly in favour of building a more integrated rail, highway and air transportation system linking Canada and the United States. Only 8 percent of Canadians and only 7 percent of Americans were opposed.
There is little room for doubt in any of these polling numbers. Although in the 1980s some Canadians were concerned about free trade, 20 years later the decision to move forward with it, and its bene- fits, are part of Canada’s popular wis- dom. By conclusive margins, both Canadians and Americans regard free trade as a success, agree they would be worse off without it, think it is important for their country’s ability to compete in the global economy, and support deepening economic integration between Canada and the United States.