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Freeland urges opposition parties to ratify new NAFTA: ‘The ball is in their court’

Freeland tables CUSMA bill as House resumes sitting
WATCH: Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland praised what she called “NAFTA-plus” while speaking to reporters Monday morning.

How long uncertainty about the new NAFTA lingers over Canada is entirely up to the opposition parties, according to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

But she is not saying within what timeline the government hopes to pass the ratification or whether any more tweaks to the deal are possible.

The House of Commons is back from winter break and diving into a new stretch of minority government in which the new NAFTA deal is taking centre stage as the Liberals prepare to table legislation to ratify the renegotiated free trade deal, also known as CUSMA, more than a year after Canada, the U.S. and Mexico reached an agreement.

READ MORE: Freeland pens letter asking Opposition parties not to delay new NAFTA

Their first step on that file is to table a ways and means motion — a preliminary requirement for any fiscal bills — followed by a vote on that motion on Wednesday and then the legislation to actually ratify the deal.

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Freeland presented that motion first thing Monday morning before speaking with reporters.

She was asked repeatedly about the timeline for the ratification and whether there was any way for the deal to be tweaked if that is the only way to get opposition support for its ratification, but Freeland did not provide clear answers on either point.

“Our government is in a minority in this Parliament, and this deal can only be ratified if it receives the support of members of Parliament on the other side of the House,” she said. “The ball is in their court.”

Freeland also repeated a call she made last week for the opposition parties to support the deal “without undue delay.”

“I think we are all aware that this is a very polarized time, that politics in the United States are polarized. The fact that this agreement was able to achieve bipartisan support in the United States is very signification to Canadians,” she said when asked about whether it could be changed or tweaked.

“I think all Canadians will benefit from an end to the uncertainty that has hung over the Canadian economy since these negotiations began,” she continued.

“For the first time since these negotiations began, NAFTA is about choices that Canadians make and it is now up to Canadians to decide — are we ready to end the uncertainty and move forward?”

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Freeland calls for all parties to rally behind CUSMA bill
Freeland calls for all parties to rally behind CUSMA bill

If the ways and means motion passes on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he plans to table ratification legislation that same day.

From there, it will face debate in the House of Commons and Senate as well as study by committees in both chambers.

It’s not clear, though, how quickly the Liberals will be able to move that through while also managing the limitations of a minority government.

Freeland: Canadians are ‘very aware’ of difficulties in negotiation of CUSMA deal
Freeland: Canadians are ‘very aware’ of difficulties in negotiation of CUSMA deal

They need support from at least one other party to pass any bill, and so far, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois have refused to say whether they will support the new NAFTA ratification bill over concerns about its impact on Canadian aluminum workers.

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The Conservatives, however, have said they are not looking at new NAFTA ratification as an opportunity to bring down the government.

But Mark Strahl, the Tories’ chief Opposition whip, told Global News last week that his party wants more clarity on the impact of the ratification on certain industries, including forestry and agriculture, and that the Conservatives have not been getting the information they want from the government about that.

What’s on the agenda as MPs return to the House of Commons?
What’s on the agenda as MPs return to the House of Commons?

At the same time, the Liberals will face more debate Monday on the throne speech they presented last month during a brief one-week return of the House of Commons following the election (including a confidence vote on that on Monday night), along with scrutiny over their handling of relations with China.

The subcommittee set up to probe those relations will meet again on Monday behind closed doors to discuss committee business.

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That can often include things like drawing up witness lists, schedules and other related tasks.

They’re also set to push ahead on the middle-class tax cut bill they tabled last month and have given notice they plan to table a bill with the same name as one that died last year when the election was called.

READ MORE: Trudeau urges Liberals to reach across regional, party divides in minority Parliament

That bill — titled “An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and the Canada Border Services Agency Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts” — aimed to bring in civilian oversight for both the RCMP and the CBSA.

Global News has reached out to the government to verify whether that will be the case with this new bill.

There is no date set yet for when the government will also table legislation to ban what it has described as “assault rifles.” But that proposal has been criticized by Conservatives as unfairly targeting legal gun owners while not doing enough to tackle gang crime.

It could be a contentious proposal, particularly among MPs from the West, where the Liberals were locked out of both Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Freeland was tasked by Trudeau with outreach to the West and working towards improving national unity, but it remains to be seen how those efforts will work in the partisan environment of both a minority government and a Conservative leadership race.

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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer announced last month he will resign once the party picks a new leader in June.