Mitchell Sharp

On February 7, 1995, Mitchell Sharp gave the O.D. Skelton Memorial Lecture at the University of Calgary. Then the Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister, Sharp had previously served as a senior public servant and a cabinet minister. For Sharp, as for others, personal experience of the Great Depression had a profound impact on his views on international trade, his chosen subject. Sharp sketches past negotiations and key institutions, or involvements, influencing Canada’s commercial policy.

As he notes, different trade issues emerged under each Prime Minister, with sometimes unanticipated consequences. For example, John Diefenbaker attempted to redirect Canadian trade away from the United States, yet Canada was more dependent on the American market when he left office than before. Under Lester B. Pearson, the Auto Pact was negotiated, yet only a few years later the government of Pierre Trudeau undertook a fundamental review of Canada’s foreign and trade policy - with an uncertain impact. Sharp describes why he personally opposed the decision of the Mulroney government to enter into a free trade agreement with the United States.

In his view, multilateralism provides Canada with far more freedom and sense of identity than dependence on the United States. On various occasions, Canada has joined international efforts to expand world trade, which have been seen by Canadian governments as useful ways to promote political understanding with our trading partners as well. Sharp argues that there has been an international trading revolution over the past 50 years, that trade barriers have been reduced and that the globalization of markets is in full swing. In conclusion, he contends that the Canadian government has responded vigorously to new opportunities, without losing sight of the risks and problems involved.

Biography of Mitchell Sharp

Mitchell Sharp was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1911. He graduated with a B.A. from the University of Manitoba in 1934, then pursued further studies there and at the London School of Economics. During that time, he worked as an economist and writer specializing in the grain trade. In 1942, he was asked by the Deputy Minister of Finance to join that Department and in 1947 he was named Director of its Economic Policy Division. As Associate Deputy Minister of Trade and Commerce from 1951 to 1957, his responsibilities included international trade relations. He served briefly as Deputy Minister before resigning from the public service in 1958 to take up an appointment as Vice-President of Brazilian Traction, Light and Power Company.

In 1963, after his election as Member of Parliament for the Toronto constituency of Eglinton, Mr. Sharp returned to the Department of Trade and Commerce as its Minister. From 1965 to 1968, he served as Minister of Finance. From 1968 to 1974, he was Secretary of State for External Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister. He was President of the Privy Council and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons from 1974 until 1976. Two years later, he resigned from Parliament to take up an appointment as Commissioner for the Northern Pipeline Agency, which he held until 1988. During that time, he also served as Co-Chairman of a Task Force on Conflict of Interest, which published a report on Ethical Conduct in the Public Service in 1984.

From 1976 to 1986, Mr. Sharp was also head of the Canadian group and deputy chairman of the Trilateral Commission. A Privy Councillor and an officer of the Order of Canada, Mr. Sharp was a Policy Associate with Strategicon from 1988 until he took up his present duties as a Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister following the 1993 general elections.

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