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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Canadian public opinion and free trade Mayer, Michael Allan


This thesis begins with a review of the elite debate over free trade with the United States. It then uses a three-fold theoretical framework to formulate predictions of how mass opinion should line up. It then analyzes public opinion data on free trade through the use of crosstabulations. Using a theory of changing exposure to international trade upon domestic political cleavages formulated by Ronald Rogowski, it predicts that labour will oppose free trade because it is a scarce factor of production, and capital will support it because it is an abundant factor of production. It next uses work by, among others, W.A. Mackintosh to predict that respondents in the "industrial heartland" regions of Canada--Quebec and Ontario--will oppose free trade because it threatens to remove the protective tariff that rewards import replacement industries concentrated in those two regions. In contrast, residents of the "resource extracting and processing hinterland" regions—British Columbia, the Prairies and the Atlantic—will, on balance, support free trade because it promises to improve their export performance. The thesis then predicts that women and lower income Canadians will oppose free trade. Women because many of the services that they consume—health and day care, for example—will become more difficult to obtain under a free trade regime. Women will also oppose free trade because it may be threaten the service sector jobs that many women now hold. Lower income Canadians should oppose free trade because of the possible deleterious effects greater reliance on the market to allocate social services could have on poorer Canadians. Finally, the thesis predicts that better-educated Canadians will oppose free trade because it threatens one of the "core-values" of Canadian society: independence from the United States. Data analysis reveals, however, that opinion is remarkably balanced. For example, the difference between union and non-union respondents is only five percent. Regionally, the largest differences in support for free trade is between British Columbia and Ontario, but it amounts to little more than a twenty percent difference. Women are slightly more likely to oppose free trade than men; income appears to play little role in the formation of opinion on free trade. Last, differences in opinion between articulate and less well educated Canadians also appears to be insignificant.

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