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Every few decades an issue arises that unexpectedly becomes a defining moment for the country. Such issues can creep up and catch decision-makers unawares. The great free trade election of 1988 was one such: when Brian Mulroney signed the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement he had no idea that it would precipitate an election/plebiscite widely understood as a choice between two very different paths into the future for Canada. It was one of the rare instances of an election in which a great public policy issue overshadowed parties and personalities.

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