Liberals to face ‘louder’ criticism on NAFTA, Conservatives vow

Liberals to face 'louder' criticism on NAFTA, Conservatives vow
Liberals to face 'louder' criticism on NAFTA, Conservatives vow

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is about to be subjected to harsh criticism over his government’s handling of NAFTA negotiations.

The Conservatives say they are “frustrated” with the way the Liberals have managed the talks to date and will be more vocal in highlighting their concerns going forward.

“You’re going to hear the Conservatives be louder,” said Erin O’Toole, the Conservative foreign affairs critic.

“It is a crisis. Canada’s backed into a corner. So we are worried the Trudeau plan has not worked.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to return to Washington this week for another round of high-level talks with her American counterparts.

The U.S. and Mexico already have reached an agreement in principle and are threatening to move on without Canada if Ottawa isn’t ready to sign by October 1.

CBC News has reported previously that Canada is prepared to play the role of deadline spoiler, as Canadian negotiators work toward a deal they are comfortable signing.

While no Canadian officials have said talks are in crisis mode, sources say progress is “slow.”

O’Toole has been careful to make the point that he still hopes Canada can get a good deal and that when speaking about NAFTA in the United States or abroad, the Conservatives will still be a part of the ‘team Canada’ approach.

“We don’t go to Washington to have our political discussions for Canada,” O’Toole said.

He added the Conservatives are willing to help when called upon, even though they disagree with the approach the government has taken so far.

O’Toole said Ottawa should not have tried to add new “progressive” elements to NAFTA.

When Canada announced its negotiation goals last year, it included a push for provisions on gender, Indigenous rights, and the environment.

“The so-called Trudeau agenda was inserted, and went over very poorly in the United States,” said O’Toole. “So we squandered the early six months of negotiations and I think we’re paying for it now.”

NAFTA talks, for the most part, have not been subject to partisan political attacks in Canada.

“I think it’s been very difficult under the Donald Trump administration to negotiate. We recognize that,” said NDP trade critic Tracey Ramsey.

She said the NDP will be questioning the Liberals about NAFTA in the fall session of Parliament and that it will “factor hugely” into the 2019 federal election campaign.

“There are points where we are going to push on the government to do better,” said Ramsey.

“We are vehemently opposed to opening up supply management any further than it has been already … it seems to be a favourite kind of concession of the Liberal government and the Conservatives before us. We want that to end.”

Canada is willing to make concessions on dairy supply management which would allow American farmers to sell more products north of the border.

A senior source said negotiators are still working out what new regulations would look like.