NAFTA’s fate could change timing of 2019 federal election: expert

Click to play video: 'Mexican election could bring split in NAFTA talks: Sands'
Mexican election could bring split in NAFTA talks: Sands
WATCH: Mexican election could bring split in NAFTA talks: Sands – Jun 24, 2018

An expert on Canada-U.S. relations says he could see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau triggering a federal election earlier than planned next year if the trade war with the United States continues to escalate and NAFTA falls to pieces.

Christopher Sands, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, told The West Block‘s Eric Sorensen this weekend that the ongoing NAFTA talks could be rocked by the upcoming presidential vote in Mexico, which could create reverberations in Ottawa.

WATCH: NAFTA negotiations separate from tariff response, says Freeland

Click to play video: 'Freeland: NAFTA negotiations separate from tariff response'
Freeland: NAFTA negotiations separate from tariff response

If the Mexican election brings a change to their NAFTA negotiation strategy, Sands said, “it could favour one of Donald Trump’s frequent threats, which is to split the talks, say do a U.S. bilateral with Mexico with the new president, and then suspend talks with Canada and come back to them next year.”

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That would work out pretty perfectly for Trump, he added, “because only American content can go everywhere in North America, and NAFTA’s dead.”

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READ MORE: Mexican presidential candidate Obrador says he’s ready to take on Donald Trump

Trudeau, meanwhile, may then take a hard look at what’s happening and decide that Canadians’ pre-scheduled date with the ballot box in mid-October 2019 is too far away.

“If the prime minister feels that we’re in a crisis in Canada-U.S. relations and that everything’s at stake — from the auto industry in Ontario to energy in the west and everything else in between — I think he might well say he needs a strong mandate to deal with Trump,” Sands said.

“On those terms, he might very well be able to be returned with a majority.”

READ MORE: Canada preparing ‘detailed’ response to potential Trump auto tariffs

Canada has had a law in place since 2007 requiring that each general election take place on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year after the previous vote.

Unpacking the Politics: Passing the pot bill, negotiating NAFTA and the summer ahead

Click to play video: 'Unpacking the Politics: Passing the pot bill, negotiating NAFTA and the summer ahead.'
Unpacking the Politics: Passing the pot bill, negotiating NAFTA and the summer ahead.

But Trudeau is still free to request an election earlier than that, because nothing in the new rules affects the powers of the Governor General, which include the power to dissolve Parliament at her discretion.

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READ MORE: Boycotting U.S. products? Here’s how to buy Canadian during a trade war

Trump’s rhetoric surrounding trade with Canada has only become more critical in recent weeks as the NAFTA talks have dragged on. The president has personally attacked Trudeau and recently threatened to start imposing steep new tariffs on automotive imports.

Meanwhile, Canada’s retaliatory tariffs on a variety of products, announced in response to U.S. duties on steel and aluminum, are still expected to come into effect on July 1.

-Watch the full interview with Christopher Sands above.

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