SASKATOON—Canada will try to meet a Sept. 30 deadline to reach a North American free trade pact, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested Thursday the most recent timeline set by the U.S. may not be met as NAFTA talks continue.
“We have seen various deadlines put forward as markers to work for,” said Trudeau. “We’re going to continue to work toward the right deal for Canadians, a good deal for Canadians, and we’ll do the work needed and try and get there as quick as we can but we’re going to make sure we’re doing what is necessary to get the right deal for Canadians.”
Trudeau said meanwhile the government will also move quickly to advance legislation to implement the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Americans withdrew from that wide-ranging deal after Donald Trump became president, prompting the remaining 11 nations to work toward a revised pact without the U.S. The countries that signed on are: Canada, Mexico, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Australia, Brunei and Vietnam.
The government will bring the bill on the new trade treaty — which contains concessions on things like dairy that the U.S. is seeking at the NAFTA table — to the Commons for second reading debate which will then send it on to a parliamentary committee for in-depth study, even as NAFTA talks continue.
Trudeau said it will bring Canadian goods to “new markets, and new customers” and create jobs and growth in Canada.
Trudeau dismissed any suggestion that Freeland had irritated the White House in the course of the talks, or by attending a panel entitled “Taking on the tyrant” at an event in Toronto.
He hailed her handling of the negotiations and said the government is working in a “diligent and focused” way to get a good deal.
He has repeatedly said he would rather not sign a deal than sign one that would be bad for Canada’s economy over the long run, but some like Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe have questioned the wisdom of that assertion.
Sources say key sticking points remain. The U.S. wants greater access to Canada’s dairy market and cultural industries, while Canada insists any trade pact must have independent binational dispute resolution mechanisms where the U.S. wants disputes settled in domestic courts.
Freeland has won praise from many of her fellow MPs after their return from their ridings; she got a standing ovation at the caucus retreat.
Federal Liberals left the caucus retreat in Saskatoon in a buoyant mood even as the shadow of unfinished NAFTA talks hung over their preparliamentary gathering.
“People are telling me they like the government’s approach on NAFTA and ‘Hang in there. Don’t be bullied,’” said International Trade Minister Jim Carr.
The meeting here was part strategy session, part pep rally, with Trudeau sharpening his message ahead of the 2019 election year.
He said the government will not prorogue or bring in a new throne speech, but will continue to enact the agenda it was elected on and focus on delivering “real change” to middle-class Canadians “not the same old flawed plan that the Conservatives are offering.”
However he is drawing a clearer line between Canada’s conservatives and “populists on the right.”
He attacked the Conservatives for having no plan for the economy and of playing politics with people’s anxieties and fears by exaggeration.
“Worst of all they’d rather use the politics of division for quick electoral gains than to find ways to bring people together to bring a better future.”
Trudeau said his government will introduce this fall pay equity legislation to ensure women “get equal pay for work of equal value” in federally regulated sectors.
And he stood firm in the face of growing provincial opposition to his carbon pricing plan, saying that the “time is long since past to start fighting climate change.”
Ontario and Saskatchewan are challenging in the courts the Liberal promise to enact a federal carbon tax (which would return money to the provinces). Trudeau turned aside questions about a possible growing divide between east and west, saying Canadians expect his government to act, in the face of more extreme floods, hurricanes and wildfires he said are linked to global warming.
“If a province is unwilling to do what is necessary the federal government will act,” said Trudeau.
The Liberal party says its 2019 election planning is well underway. Party officials say while it might seem as if Conservatives are out-fundraising the Liberals, the Conservatives have spent more money to collect those donations and so the parties are actually on a more level playing field than it appears.
So far the party has completed nominations in about 26 ridings, however party officials say most Liberal MPs are running again.
Trudeau praised the 25 Toronto MPs of his caucus for issuing a statement against Doug Ford’s use of a constitutional override clause to cut Toronto city council, but again said he won’t weigh in on the debate on the size of the council, saying it is “not a role the federal government needs to take on.”
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc