Back in June, one poll suggested that three-quarters of Canadians had no idea that Ottawa was in the midst of negotiating a major trade agreement with 11 other Pacific-rim nations.
Fast-forward more than three months, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership is now very much in the news. In recent weeks, all of the major federal parties have had to field questions about the agreement’s possible impact on Canada’s dairy, poultry and auto-manufacturing sectors.
In a panel discussion with The West Block‘s Tom Clark, former NDP strategist Robin Sears called the Conservative government’s lack of transparency about the status of the trade talks — and what Canada might stand to lose — “stupid.”
“They won’t be able to announce the details of the agreement, so the Liberals and the NDP will be able to call it all sorts of names without their ability to push back saying no, it isn’t that, it isn’t this. It will be the claim rather than the reality that will drive the narrative,” Sears said.
“Secondly, how stupid is it for a government to pretend it has the freedom to negotiate two weeks before it might be defeated? No negotiating partner will believe anything they say at the table anyway, so I just think this whole strategy is nuts from the Tories’ point of view.”
The NDP has said it will not be bound by any agreement signed during the election campaign, especially if it compromises the dairy and poultry industry’s supply-management system.
Rick Anderson, a political strategist who worked with the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties, argued that Canada has to be at the table at this point. If Ottawa pulls out, it risks being left out of the largest trade agreement in history.
“If all around the world the 12 countries that are part of the negotiating table left the table every time they were in the middle of a political process there would be no negotiations, it can’t work that way,” Anderson argued.
“Just because it gets the Canadian government’s signature, if that’s what happens, (the agreement) won’t be final. It still needs to come to Parliament. It still needs to have implementing legislation. If the government and Parliament of the day decide not to ratify it, that’s going to be their prerogative.”
Liberal fundraiser Lindsay Doyle said Justin Trudeau’s refusal to say whether the Liberals would oppose a TPP deal that dismantled supply management is “probably a wise choice at this time” considering that the party has no idea what the agreement will actually contain.
“I do think that the NDP have jumped the gun a little bit here and it makes them look a little bit naïve when it comes to these larger issues,” Doyle noted.
Anderson, meanwhile, called the negotiations “a gift” to all three parties.
“They’re all going to revert to their traditional positions on these kinds of things,” he said.
“The Conservatives are going to be a champion of open trade and they’re going to make the argument … that this is extremely important to Canadian jobs. The NDP are going to scare-monger the daylights out of this and say ‘Oh, trade will be the end of this and that and health care, the end of fresh water, the end of the CBC’ … That’s what the NDP is going to do for the next two weeks. And the Liberals will try to have it both ways: this part of the deal needs to be renegotiated, or whatever they’re going to say about it.”
© 2015 Shaw Media