NAFTA media war looms

Opponents of the proposed North American free trade agreement are getting together to consider how best to communicate their concerns to the public now that Ottawa has announced it will spend $3 million on a fall campaign to sell the deal.On...

Opponents of the proposed North American free trade agreement are getting together to consider how best to communicate their concerns to the public now that Ottawa has announced it will spend $3 million on a fall campaign to sell the deal.

On Aug. 31, the federal government launched a $1.88-million national English and French radio campaign, scheduled to run six to eight weeks.

As well, it will soon mail out a several-page pro-nafta information pamphlet to households across the country.

But even after nafta opponents reach a consensus on how best to attack the proposed deal, they will likely find their paid-media advocacy efforts hampered by a lack of funds.

One of the leading organizations opposing the deal, Action Canada, which is a coalition of 45 labor, women’s, farmers’, seniors’ and student groups, is still paying off the $900,000 it spent back in 1988 on an anti-free trade newspaper insert.

Michael McBane, Action Canada public campaign co-ordinator, says if nothing else, individual labor organizations within Action Canada might be able to afford limited campaigns to counter the Mulroney administration’s promotion of a continental trading strategy between Canada, the u.s. and Mexico.

Derek Hodgson, director of communications for the Canadian Labour Congress, which is a member of Action Canada, confirms the congress is planning some sort of retaliation to the government’s campaign, but for now he is playing his cards close to his chest.

‘We’ll have to be a little circumspect as to how we’ll do it,’ Hodgson says.

In the past, the congress has bought radio advertising during broadcasts of the National Baseball League’s World Series, and Hodgson does not rule out the possibility it will do so during this year’s annual fall classic.

Another possible participant in the anti-nafta campaign is the Canadian Apparel Manufacturers’ Institute, which is worried the proposed trade agreement will cause irreparable damage to the Canadian textile industry.

One of the provisions in the proposed agreement would bar non-North American fabrics and yarns from garments made in North America.

It has been widely speculated in the media the industry is planning a communications campaign to make its position known to Canadians. Calls to the institute were not returned at press time.

Although nafta opposition groups have accused the federal Tories of spending public funds to run a partisan communications effort in supporting the deal, Bill Colvin, a communications advisor for Michael Wilson, the international trade minister, contends the accusations are unfounded.

Colvin says the campaign ‘deals with everything from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, to nafta and the fta [between Canada and the u.s.], to where Canada has been in its trading arrangements. It is very much a factual campaign to inform Canadians where we’re at.’

He says the campaign is part of the government’s earlier communications campaign in support of its high-profile ‘Prosperity Initiative.’

In the past year, the Prosperity Initiative has been advertised on television and radio and in print ads. The ads have featured the themes ‘Yes We Can’ and ‘Canada, Buy Into It.’

The McLaughlin Group, an arm of Toronto’s Deacon Day Advertising specializing in advocacy advertising, is Ottawa’s agency on the Prosperity Initiative and the nafta campaign.

Media is handled by Toronto’s Genesis Media, the federal government’s agency-of-record.

In total, McLaughlin has produced 12 radio spots for the nafta campaign. They will air throughout the day and deal with different aspects of Canada’s trade picture.

Listeners will notice the voice on the English versions of the ads belongs to none other than former ctv national news announcer Harvey Kirk, although he is not explicitly identified.

Robert Orr, vice-president of The McLauglin Group, says the contract with the radio stations prohibits them from airing the spots close to the noon period when Kirk’s syndicated radio feature for Maclean’s magazine is broadcast on stations across the country.