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Open for Business

 by Aislin, 1987

This song is dedicated to the work of The Council of Canadians Chairperson, Maude Barlow, a great woman who has worked tirelessly in defense of Canada’s environment and unique social policies.


OPEN FOR BUSINESS (words and music Mike Ford 2007)


“Hey everybody…gather ‘round!

It’s time to do The Continental!”


Open up the border for the new harmonizin’

New World Order is on the horizon

Trickle-down, trickle-down throw yer wooden nickel down

Free market tore the mighty hammer and the sickle down

Fake left swing right economic satellite

Everything is on the table if yer able have a bite




On the dotted line yer signin’ to the new reality

Build-a build-a better branch plant mentality

War Chest missile test, privatize all the rest

Integrate, deregulate, the destiny is manifest

Open up the mineshaft, lower the denominator

Get it for ya cheap, I’ll sell it back an hour later




Everybody say goodbye

Everybody say goodbye

Everybody say goodbye



“Alright now, take it down…let’s see how low can you go”


Survival of the first to bend and grovel to the captor

Outsource no remorse be the best adaptor

Genuflect genuflect to the holy NAFTA

Oil in the hills’a comin’ gushin’ once ye tapped ‘er

Download offload tearin’ up the railroad

Give us twenty years ye won’t recognize a Postal Code

Workin’ overtime reversin’ the Niagara

Parliament is impotent, banks a’ got Viagra

Pass the legislation but the halls are full’a laughter

‘Cuz now you owe the corporation, or did you not read that chapter..?



Everybody say goodbye…


Historical Context

1988 Canada and the United States signed the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement after which the U.S. Congress approved implementing legislation. The American government then entered into negotiations with the Mexican government for a similar treaty, and Canada asked to join the negotiations in order to preserve its perceived gains under the 1988 deal. The climate at the time favored expanding trade blocs, such as the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union in 1992.

The proposed agreement had been extremely controversial and divisive in Canada, and the 1988 Canadian election was fought almost exclusively on that issue. In that election more Canadians voted for anti-free trade parties (the Liberals and the New Democrats) but more seats in parliament were won by the pro-free trade Progressive Conservatives (PCs). Mulroney and the PCs had a parliamentary majority and were able to easily pass the Canada-U.S. FTA and NAFTA bills.

The North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA is an agreement signed by the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States, creating a trilateral trade bloc in North America. The agreement came into force on January 1, 1994. It superseded the Canada – United States Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Canada

There is not the space here to go into the many details and ramifications of the NAFTA deal (it is an immense legal document) but all Canadians should know and understand its infamous ‘Chapter 11’. In short, Chapter 11 of NAFTA spells out some of the unprecedented ‘Investor Rights, provisions. It stipulates that investors from one NAFTA partner (not mere citizens – only investors) can sue another NAFTA government if that government passes a law that is deemed harmful to the profit-making of the investor. For example, several chemical companies have won HUGE settlements from NAFTA decisions – decisions that determined that specific Canadian environmental laws were preventing the companies from making massive profits they expected. In other words, if scientific and health studies determine that, say, a chemical additive being put in our automotive gas is carcinogenic (cancer-causing), and our government passes a law banning that chemical additive, the chemical company’s investors can then sue the taxpayers for profits they were planning on receiving from sales of that carcinogenic additive. This is not hypothetical, it already happens – Canadian taxpayers have paid hundreds of millions in settlements of this exact kind. If the Quebec government, for example, votes to ban a cancer-causing pesticide from use on public lawns, the pesticide company’s investors can then sue that government (the taxpayers) for millions and millions in ‘loss’ of ‘expected’ profits. Once again, that is not hypothetical but an actual occurrence. In short, NAFTA’s Chapter 11 in effect says that financial investors of a company are more powerful than elected government – not just because of the strength of The Market, or competition, or their job-creating or job-slashing powers – but because of an international and binding treaty that says if a government acts to protect their citizens, they are liable to pay, and pay BIGTIME.

As of spring, 2011, 28 different NAFTA charges have been brought against the Canadian Government, totaling over $14 Billion in damages claimed. The chilling effect this brings to legislation is quite real, with cries of “we can’t do that, we’ll get sued under NAFTA” regularly echoing through parliament. It is not surprising that whenever a NAFTA decision results in massive Canadian government payouts, the government keeps the news of it pretty quiet.



Composer Notes

Like In Winnipeg, this song is written from a specific point of view, and presented sarcastically. Also, like Let’s Mobilize and Expo ’67, it is meant to be a kind of in-your-face advertisement for a particular mania. The mania in this case is the huge commotion over Free Trade, specifically in the late 1980’s, but resonating ever since from Ottawa, Bay Street and all over Canadian media. The song is mostly written as a collage, or barrage of the catch-phrases, slogans and rationalizations of many pro-NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) voices of the era. I use the common ‘topical song’ approach of sarcasm and exaggeration – in other words, the singer here is a commercial huckster gratingly espousing all the things that in reality I find dangerous and alarming about such a trade deal.

The most recurrent theme of my alarmist screed here is the fear of lost sovereignty – that the trade deals negotiated through the late 80’s and 90’s can only result in a panicked Continentalism that reduces Canadians’ ability to create their own standards of labour, environmental, economic and social policies, permanently hobbling the nation.

In performance, I often preface the song that by saying it’s not about Brian Mulroney (even though the chorus phrase ‘Open For Business’ is straight from one of his first speeches as Prime Minister), and that if its bile is directed in one specific direction, that direction is what was then called The Business Council on National Issues (it is now called the Canadian Council of Chief Executives) – a corporate-funded think tank that has lead the charge in Canada for a Fortune 500-based view of this country, to the detriment of environmental, social and cultural well-being. One inspiring counterweight to the above-mentioned executive voices has been The Council of Canadians. I often dedicate this song to The Council of Canadians Chairperson, Maude Barlow, a great woman who has worked tirelessly in defense of Canada’s environment (specifically water) and unique social policies (specifically medicare).


Activities & Class Discussions

Class Discussion Questions



“Canada has always had to adjust its trade policies when its principal trading partners have changed their policies. Canada has always had to adjust. It is a mandate of geography.” – Peter Morici, from Implications of a North American Free Trade Region

“Does increased trade and investment mean we can afford to rebuild our health care system? Can we keep our promises to end child poverty? Can we fund better schools? Build affordable housing? Can we afford to invest in cleaner energy sources? Do we work less, have more leisure time? In short, do we have a better, more just, sustainable society?” – Naomi Klein, from Fences & Windows – Dispatches from the front lines of the Globalization debate

“the Multilateral Agreement on Investments is a one-way street in which capital-holders are given the power to challenge the laws of democratically elected governments, and governments are given no reciprocal powers over them (…) Governments have chosen to render themselves impotent” - Linda McQuaig from The Cult of Impotence

Larger Theme

I decided to make my ‘Free Trade Debate’ song a fast-paced barrage of buzz-words to illuminate not the debate’s content, but the form and volume that content takes in the media. Who decides which experts we hear from? How and where are they presented? What is the citizen to make of the cascade of opinion pieces, statistics, warnings, polls, predictions and promises that get released through media come election or referendum time? (see activity page)


Activities / Projects

Open For Business – Information Collage

 Linda McQuaig, on page 13 of They Shoot Hippos, Don’t They? comments on the way a major issue debate (Canada’s fiscal deficit, circa 1995) was presented to us :

“…one viewpoint invariably dominates. Arrayed against the handful of sceptics…is an army of commentators, who tirelessly promote the deficit-leaves-us-no-alternative-but-to-cut-social-spending theory and whose views are regularly featured in every major newspaper and magazine, as well as on television and radio news and current affairs programs. This chorus of voices overwhelms, not because of the force of their arguments, but through their sheer numbers and the prominence they are given. After a while, their incessant calls for…spending cuts take on a quality of inevitability.

After a while, the chorus calling for…cuts becomes just part of the clatter in people’s heads…the way the media bombard us with a message until eventually, through sheer repetition – like the monotonous, incessant banging of plates – it lodges in our heads, becoming a dull background noise, a kind of invisible yet inescapable fact of life. Anything else then comes to sound like a curious, offkey whine. The sound rumbling though our heads tells us: this is just the way things are; there is no alternative.”


Spot the bafflegab / clatter – Read an economy related news story.

What are the assumptions? The Unasked Questions?






References / Suggested Readings

McQuaig, Linda The Cult of Impotence – Selling the myth of powerlessness in the global economy Toronto: Penguin Books Canada, 1998


Newman, Peter C. The Secret Mulroney Tapes – Unguarded confessions of a Prime Minister Random House Canada, 2005


Klein, Naomi Fences and Windows – Dispatches from the front lines of the globalization debate Vintage Canada, 2002

McKinney, Joseph A. and M. Rebecca Sharpless Implications of a North American Free Trade Region – Multidisciplinary perspectives Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1992

McQuaig, Linda Shooting The Hippo – Death by deficit and other Canadian myths Toronto: Penguin Books Canada, 1995