Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, placing his free-trade agreement with the United States on the line, on Saturday called a general election for Nov. 21.
Mulroney’s widely expected announcement came two days after the latest opinion poll showed that his Progressive Conservatives could win a majority over the opposition Liberal and New Democratic parties.
Both opposition parties are against the agreement, which would gradually eliminate remaining tariff and non-tariff barriers between the two countries that share the world’s largest trading relationship.
The accord, already approved by the U.S. Congress and signed last week by President Reagan, is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
Mulroney made his announcement after emerging from a brief meeting with Canada’s governor general, where permission was granted to dissolve Parliament.
“The key question for the electorate will be ‘Who can best manage change in the years ahead,’ ” the prime minister said.
“The free-trade agreement with the United States will mean enlarged opportunity for our producers and businesses, more and better jobs for Canadians, especially our youth, and higher living standards for our people,” he said.
The pact is widely supported by the business community and many of the provincial governments.
In Toronto, Liberal leader John Turner said he was pleased with the announcement, saying his party has been waiting for two months “to let the people decide.”
“An independent and sovereign Canada has never been so threatened as it is by the Mulroney trade deal,” he said. “I believe the free-trade agreement will reduce Canada to a junior partnership in North America.”
Mulroney’s move ended weeks of speculation that began when Turner asked his colleagues, who dominate the Senate, to stall passage of the trade legislation until an election was called.
Turner has vowed, however, to let the legislation pass through the Senate if the Conservatives win a second majority.
Members of the Senate are appointed, not elected.
Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives won a landslide majority in September, 1984, putting an end to nearly two decades of Liberal rule.
But the inexperienced Conservatives were rocked by a series of scandals and Cabinet resignations. The party has only recently rebounded in the polls.
Mulroney did not have to call an election until September, 1989.