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Encyclopedia > Reciprocity (Canadian politics)

See also Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty of 1855.


In 19th century Canadian politics, reciprocity was the term used to describe the concept of free trade with the United States of America and was promoted as an alternative to Sir John A. Macdonald's National Policy. The Liberal Party of Canada ran and were defeated over their reciprocity platform in the 1891 Canadian election. Subsequently, the Liberals shelved the concept and went on to win the 1896 Canadian election. However, the Liberals again campaigned on reciprocity in the 1911 Canadian election, this time from government, but were again defeated.


The concept of reciprocity with the United States was revived in the 1985 when the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada headed by former Liberal Minister of Finance Donald S. Macdonald issued a report calling for free trade with the US. The Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney acted on the recommendation by negotiating the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and fighting the 1988 Canadian election on the issue.


Reciprocity meant that there would be no protective tariffs on all natural resources being imported and exported between Canada and the United States. This would allow prairie grain farmers access to the larger American market, and allow them to make more money on their exports.


When reciprocity came up in 1896, it was the Americans who proposed it to Laurier's Liberals. The idea excited them, and they immediately began to campaign for it. The Conservatives feared that they would lose the election again due to the valuable agreement, and despite their general belief that it would do Canada good, began to campaign against it.


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