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COMMENTARY: Canadian politicians need to put politics aside and ratify CUSMA — ASAP

Trudeau says ratifying CUSMA is a ‘top priority’ of his government
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that CUSMA ratification is a “top priority” of his administration, imploring the Liberal caucus to move “resolutely and rapidly” to ratify the trade deal between Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Despite the distraction of the upcoming Conservative leadership race, interim party leader Andrew Scheer is vowing that the Liberals will not get a free ride when Parliament resumes sitting.

This was clearly a dilemma for the Conservatives in deciding upon the proper length for a leadership campaign — as long as the party has not yet selected a new leader, there is zero desire to bring down the government or contribute to its fall.

Therefore, despite Scheer’s insistence to the contrary, there will likely be something approaching a free ride for the government between now and June.

READ MORE: Here’s what’s going to change with the newly signed CUSMA trade pact

When it comes to the new NAFTA — or CUSMA as we’re calling it, USMCA as the Americans are calling it, and T-MEC as the Mexicans are calling it — that might turn out to be a good thing. While it’s certainly reasonable that the opposition parties hold government to account, even in a minority government situation, it’s hard to see what is to be gained from delaying or blocking this trade deal.

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It’s not just the Conservatives, obviously, that will play a role in whether and how quickly this deal gets ratified, but Conservative plus Liberal support would be enough to render the NDP and Bloc Quebecois moot.

Let’s be clear: the new NAFTA is far from perfect. All things considered, the new NAFTA is probably somewhat worse than the old NAFTA. So it might seem counterintuitive to argue that rapid ratification is the proper response.

The reality, though, is that Canada has made the best of a bad situation, and the fact that we have a reasonable deal before us to ratify at all should be seen as a win. Trade between Canada and the U.S. is of vital importance, and a less-than-perfect trade deal is much better than no trade deal at all.

READ MORE: Trump is expected to sign Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade deal on Jan. 29: White House

We were dealing with a rather volatile U.S. president who was hell-bent on tearing up the old NAFTA. Yes, it’s absurd to claim, as Trump has, that the old NAFTA was the worst trade deal ever and a slightly tweaked NAFTA is the greatest trade deal ever, but that’s who we’re dealing with.

The Liberals have made it clear that ratification is their top priority and that process will begin in the coming days. A procedural motion will be introduced on Monday followed by the actual ratification bill on Wednesday.

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Mexico was the first to ratify the new deal, and ratification finally passed a vote in the U.S. Senate earlier this month. It would be rather disastrous for Canada to suddenly decide we’re not on board at this point. Re-opening this deal is also a complete non-starter.

The NDP has indicated a willingness to drag out this process, calling for an exhaustive review of the deal. The Bloc Quebecois, meanwhile, has been pushing for full debate and committee hearings.

The Conservatives have been coy on their intentions, but have warned that the Liberals shouldn’t expect a “rubber stamp.”

As the Conservatives point out, though, they are “the party of free trade.” They have certainly won the day on this broader issue. We went from an election in 1988 fought over whether we should even have a trade deal with the U.S. to a broad political consensus that free trade is in Canada’s best interests.

The Liberals deserve credit for getting the NAFTA deal done, as well as closing the Trans Pacific Partnership and the trade deal with the European Union. The Conservatives also deserve credit for doing much of the heavy lifting on the latter two. That we’re down to parsing small details about these agreements instead of debating whether they should exist at all is a major victory for sensible economic policy.

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I understand there’s a reluctance in politics to ever giving the other side a “win,” but getting this deal ratified and putting this trade uncertainty behind us is a win for Canada.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.