September 30, 2015 11:34 am
Updated: September 30, 2015 1:43 pm

Joe Oliver defends government pursuit of trade deal during ‘caretaker’ period

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TORONTO – Finance Minister Joe Oliver says the government is well within its rights to negotiate a massive Pacific Rim trade agreement in the middle of an election campaign.

Oliver is rejecting suggestions that the government’s continued pursuit of the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership is a violation of the so-called “caretaker convention,” which is supposed to limit the government activity during an election period.

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“There is a protocol in place and we of course consult with the Privy Council on these issues,” Oliver said Wednesday during a campaign event in his Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence.

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“When there’s a matter of importance or urgency for the government to deal with in the national interest then it’s appropriate for us to do that. And this is certainly one of those cases.”

Notably, Oliver wouldn’t say whether his Conservative party has consulted its Liberal and NDP rivals on the trade talks.

The caretaker convention stipulates that governing parties are expected to consult opposition parties on matters that could end up tying the hands of future governments.

“I think the convention, as I understand it, is that we can proceed if there’s a matter of urgency and importance and we’re doing that,” Oliver replied when asked specifically about consulting the Liberals and NDP.

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“In certain cases where a major decision is unavoidable during a campaign (e.g. due to an international obligation or an emergency), consultation with the opposition parties may be appropriate, particularly where a major decision could be controversial or difficult for a new government to reverse,” the convention states.

“In short, during an election, a government should restrict itself -in matters of policy, expenditure and appointments – to activity that is: 1. (a) routine, or 2. (b) non-controversial, or 3. (c) urgent and in the public interest, or 4. (d) reversible by a new government without undue cost or disruption, or 5. (e) agreed to by opposition parties (in those cases where consultation is appropriate).”

Trade Minister Ed Fast is in Atlanta for a renewed round of negotiations, and speculation is rampant that an agreement in principle could emerge by the end of the week.

Questions are lingering what possible concessions Canada may have to make in agriculture and the auto sector to get a deal, which could cast the Conservative party in a positive light ahead of the Oct. 19 election.

The Liberals and NDP have criticized the government for not being transparent about the talks.

© 2015 The Canadian Press

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