Reciprocity (Canadian politics)

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A 1911 Conservative campaign poster warns that the big American pig will gobble up the benefits of reciprocity as proposed by Liberals

In nineteenth and early twentieth century Canadian politics, reciprocity meant the removal of protective tariffs on all natural resources being imported and exported between Canada and the United States. Reciprocity and free trade have been emotional issues in Canadian history, as they pitted two conflicting impulses, the desire for beneficial economic ties with the United States against the fear that closer economic ties would lead to American domination and annexation.

1880s to 1910s[edit]

After Confederation, reciprocity was initially promoted as an alternative to Prime Minister John A. Macdonald's National Policy. 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. In the 1890s, it also meant that Western Canadian farmers could obtain access to cheaper American farm machinery and manufactured goods, which otherwise had to be obtained at higher prices from central Canada.

In the 1891 election, the Liberal Party of Canada ran on a reciprocity platform. It lost to Macdonald who won with his nationalist slogan, "The Old Flag, The Old Policy, The Old Leader." The Liberals temporarily shelved the concept. When reciprocity came up again, in 1896, it was the Americans who proposed it to Wilfrid Laurier's Liberals. The idea still excited them and they immediately began to campaign for it. Despite their general belief it would benefit Canada, the Conservatives campaigned against it.

The Liberal Party went on to win the 1896 election, and some years later it negotiated an elaborate reciprocity agreement with the United States in 1911. However, in the 1911 election reciprocity again became a major issue, with the Conservatives saying that it would be a "sell out" to the United States. The Liberals were defeated by the Conservative party whose slogan was "No truck or trade with the Yankees".[1]

Free trade in the 1980s[edit]

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.[2] The Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney acted on the recommendation by negotiating the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and successfully fighting the 1988 election on the issue.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ellis, 1939
  2. ^ Donald S. MacDonald; et al. (1987). Building a Canadian-American Free Trade Area. IRPP. 
  3. ^ Raymond Benjamin Blake (2007). Transforming the Nation: Canada and Brian Mulroney. McGill-Queen's Press. p. 120. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Beaulieu, Eugene; Emery, J.C. Herbert. "Pork Packers, Reciprocity, and Laurier's Defeat in the 1911 Canadian General Election," Journal of Economic History (2001) 61#4 pp 1083–1101 in JSTOR
  • Clements, Kendrick A. "Manifest Destiny and Canadian Reciprocity in 1911," Pacific Historical Review (1973) 42#1 pp. 32–52 in JSTOR
  • Ellis, Lewis E. (1939). Reciprocity, 1911: a study in Canadian-American relations. Greenwood. 

External links[edit]