Here, from an iPolitics interview with Erin O’Toole, are some principled and sensible “conditions” which the Conservatives demand in return for, broadly, supporting the Liberal government during NAFTA negotiations:
- The Liberals must “keep the focus on job creation, securing market access and levelling a playing field that he says has given Mexican labour an unfair advantage;” and
- The Conservatives “have no time for the “virtue signalling” on gender, Indigenous and environmental issues that the government has also raised as bargaining priorities.“
Mr O’Toole, suggests, correctly, I think, that the “virtue signalling” is all, 100% about burnishing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s public profile and they have exactly zero bearing on NAFTA. The government ought not to be surprised when the official opposition decides not to help the government win the next election or campaign for a Nobel Prize.
The iPolitics article says that “For now, said O’Toole, the dust has settled … [because, in part] … “There is a lot of goodwill for us to work on it” said O’Toole … [because, further] … trade is the Conservative legacy — the original free trade deal with the U.S., NAFTA, the Canada-EU pact, were all instigated by Conservative governments. NAFTA and the Canada-EU pacts were finalized by Liberal governments … [and, he said] … “We want it to be a positive. We know how critical it can be to jobs in our economy” … [additionally] … O’Toole also said he has great respect for his prime political opponent, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is also in charge of NAFTA and Canada-U.S. relations. He said they struck up a rapport when he was the Conservative parliamentary secretary on trade and she the Liberal trade critic … [and] … “We have a friendship; I admire her a great deal.” But that warmth does not extend to other members of Trudeau cabinet, or the prime minister himself … [because] … “What I want to see out of Canada is less of the virtue-signalling type of approach where we put the centrepieces of Justin Trudeau’s image building — the gender equal cabinet, the reconciliation — they’re all important but this is an economic trade agreement,” said O’Toole … [and] … “I don’t think anyone who’s had a casual observation of the Trump administration will suggest that their priority is going to be environment, Indigenous and other things like that” … [but] … when it comes to making progress on labour rights, the Liberals and Conservatives are on the same page. Low wages and poor working conditions have given Mexico an unfair advantage, particularly in the auto sector, he said … [and] … O’Toole said NAFTA should strive to find ways to elevate Mexican workers with higher pay, better working conditions, benefits such as workers’ compensation — “a whole range of additions” … [because] … “At times we will have mutual interests with Mexico, but at times we will not,” he said. “That’s also got to be the realpolitick with this.”“
So there it is: an olive branch with some string attached: negotiate with Canada’s (now just Justin Trudeau’s) vital interests at the top of the agenda and the government can count on bipartisan support. But I’m not sure it will work … my, personal, sense is that the Butts-Telford-Trudeau team is not, really, interested enough in NAFTA … not compared to their 2019 election campaign, anyway.