Centre Block is shown through the gates of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 11, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Pressure mounts on opposition parties to back speedy ratification of new NAFTA

Dairy farmers are among those for whom the deal is less than perfect

The pressure was on opposition MPs to quickly ratify the new North American free-trade agreement as Parliament got back to work Monday for its first extended sitting since the Oct. 21 election reduced the Liberals to a minority government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland urged opposition parties not to unduly delay ratification of the new deal to replace NAFTA, which has already been ratified in the United States and Mexico.

Lest their words fall on deaf ears, they were backed up by a chorus of provincial, municipal and business leaders all demanding swift action to finalize the continental trade pact, also known as the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement or CUSMA.

“North America will always remain Canada’s most important trade relationship and it is crucial for businesses that this agreement is ratified in an expeditious manner,” the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.

“All trade talks involve give and take and the CUSMA represents a good outcome overall for the Canadian economy even if not all aspects of the agreement were perfect for every sector of the economy.”

Dairy farmers are among those for whom the deal is less than perfect, requiring them to give up a small share of the Canada’s supply-managed dairy market to American producers.

But the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance was among those Monday calling for speedy ratification.

Trudeau reiterated Monday that the ratification bill will be debated and studied at committee but urged opposition parties not to drag their feet.

“There’s thousands, millions of workers across the country who rely on NAFTA, on secure access to the United States (market),” he said on his way into the Commons.

“We heard the premiers loudly and clearly saying they wanted ratification quickly. We’ve heard from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.”

The NDP and Bloc Quebecois are demanding a thorough debate on the deal in the House of Commons and in-depth study by a Commons committee. They have not ruled out proposing amendments to the deal, which if passed would reopen negotiations with the U.S. and Mexico, who would have to accept any changes.

The Conservatives, despite being generally ardent free traders, have accused Trudeau of caving in to U.S. President Donald Trump’s demands on the deal. But they remain the government’s best hope for passing legislation, to be introduced Wednesday, that will implement the trade pact.

With the Liberals 13 seats shy of a majority of seats in the Commons, the government needs the support of at least one of the major opposition parties to pass the legislation.

Freeland warned against the temptation to tinker with or hold up the deal by reminding opposition MPs of the turbulent negotiations that dragged on for more than a year. She recalled how the U.S. made “extreme” demands, ”any one of which could have dismantled NAFTA as we knew it,” and which resulted in what she called one of the most economically uncertain periods “in our modern history.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet appeared unmoved. He said more protection for Quebec’s aluminum industry will be necessary to win Bloc support for the new NAFTA. He said his party is working on some “positive ways to fix the problem,” hinting that it could be done without reopening the deal.

The revised pact stipulates that 70 per cent of steel and aluminum used in the manufacture of tariff-free automobiles must be made in North America. But the steel sector also got a provision stipulating that steel must be ”melted and poured” by primary steelmakers in North America in order to receive preferential tariff treatment — a provision that was not applied to the aluminum industry.

Freeland told the Commons that the revised NAFTA is better than the original deal, which did not specify how much steel or aluminum must originate in North America.

“Seventy per cent is better than zero per cent,” she argued.

Last week, a statement issued by the country’s premiers urged parliamentarians to ratify the new agreement ”as quickly as possible.”

“Timely ratification will enable Canadian businesses to benefit from the modernized provisions of the agreement restoring market certainty and contributing to Canada’s economic prosperity,” the statement said.

Federation of Canadian Municipalities president Bill Karsten, along with the chair of the federation’s big city mayors’ caucus, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, also chimed in with a joint statement on Monday.

“As municipal leaders, we are offering our full support to the federal government to ratify this deal and are encouraging Parliament to move swiftly so cities, city-regions and communities can continue to benefit from the economic certainty we need to keep moving forward.”

The manoeuvring to win opposition support for the new trade deal marked an otherwise relatively low-key and sombre opening of the winter parliamentary sitting.

Trudeau and other party leaders paid tribute to the 57 Canadians who died on Jan. 8 when Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 aboard. And MPs unanimously passed a motion demanding that Iran, which claims it was an accident, be fully transparent about the investigation, compensate the families of victims and bring those responsible for downing the plane to justice.

Later Monday, the government survived a confidence vote on last month’s throne speech, which passed by a vote of 181-139. Bloc MPs supported the speech, while Conservatives, Greens and New Democrats voted against it.

Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nine new COVID-19 cases announced in Interior Health region

The total number of cases since the pandemic started is now at 531 for the region

Cranbrook and Kimberley Councils support initiative calling on BC Gov. to cover prescription contraception

On September 14, 2020, Cranbrook City Council unanimously passed a motion calling… Continue reading

Former MP Wayne Stetski running for BC NDP in Kootenay East

Former federal MP Wayne Stetski is running as the BC NDP candidate… Continue reading

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

Two new COVID-19 cases reported in Interior Health

The total number of Interior Health cases since the beginning of the pandemic is now at 522

Weekend sees 267 cases, 3 deaths in B.C.; Dr. Henry says events leading to COVID spread

There are currently 1,302 active cases in B.C., while 3,372 people are under public health monitoring

Lightning strike: Tampa Bay blanks Dallas 2-0 to win Stanley Cup

Hedman wins Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP

Liberals seek to fast track new COVID-19 aid bill after CERB expires

Government secured NDP support for legislation by hiking amount of benefits by $100 to $500 per week

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. VOTES 2020: Echoes of HST in B.C. debate over sales tax

Cannabis, tobacco, luxury cars still taxed in B.C. Liberal plan

She warned her son about toxic drugs, then he was dead

Donna Bridgman’s son died at the age of 38 in Vancouver

B.C. food and beverage producers set record sales in 2019

Farmed salmon again leads international exports

Most Read