The House of Commons rose for the summer on Thursday and, in doing so, left some unfinished business.
Among those pieces of business will be the ratification of CUSMA, the renegotiated NAFTA trade deal with the United States and Mexico.
As things stand right now, the legislation to ratify the trade deal — signed last year — has been debated several times at second reading in the House of Commons. But the government says it wants to move “in tandem” with the U.S. on ratification, and the process south of the border is stalled in partisan fighting.
U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said during a visit to Ottawa in June that he remains optimistic the deal can get through Congress this summer.
From the Canadian side of things, though, the deal was not ratified by the time the House of Commons adjourned on Thursday afternoon, with the Senate set to sit until next week.
That doesn’t mean the deal won’t be ratified, however.
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Multiple government officials have said recalling Parliament during the summer months is a possibility to ratify the deal if the U.S. makes progress in overcoming the partisan bickering that is stalling the deal’s movement through Congress right now.
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Bills like those to ratify trade deals can move through the legislative process very quickly.
The most recent example is the ratification of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which had been tabled on June 14, 2018 but didn’t really begin to move through the process until Sept. 17 and had royal assent by Oct. 25.
But while there was a similar roughly six-week runway between when the NAFTA ratification bill was tabled and the end of the session this week, the delay on reaching full ratification is more political due to a lack of time to get it done.
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While Mexico achieved full ratification on Wednesday, the Canadian government has taken a more cautious approach, syncing its progress to match the U.S. even as concerns emerge about the extent to which Democratic lawmakers might try to modify the deal.
Their concerns largely centre around labour standards with Mexico and consumer protections from pharmaceutical price increases that could happen as a result of extending the length of time before medical patents expire and generic versions can be produced.
If Parliament is recalled, there are still a number of steps ahead for the ratification bill, though it’s not clear how quickly they could be done — if a recall would be a matter of days or weeks.
The bill would need to be studied in committee (although that review can happen in a matter of days), pass third reading and then be sent to the Senate.
The Senate would then also need to move through the full legislative process from first reading to second reading, committee study and, ultimately, third reading.
The ratification bill would then receive royal assent.
And with the House of Commons adjourned until Sept. 16, recalling Parliament to ratify the deal would likely be the safest chance to avoid seeing a replication of that political wrangling in Canada in the event that the election in October returns a hung parliament.
A minority result could up the political ante by turning ratification of the new NAFTA deal into a bargaining chip if it is not passed before the election.
Failing to get the bill passed before the new year could also run the risk of it being jammed in the American system as the presidential primaries get underway and political rhetoric gets supercharged in the months throughout those campaigns.