'Trade wins hands down': Why leaders may seize TPP as a wedge issue
With the announcement of a tentative deal on the Trans Pacific Partnership landing at the tail end of a marathon federal election campaign, voters can expect the party leaders to use it as a wedge issue, says one polling expert.
Canada is one of 12 nations that came to a tentative agreement Monday, following five days of round-the-clock negotiations. The TPP trade agreement would encompass about 40 per cent of the world's economy, and eliminate barriers for certain Canadian exports.
While the agreement will still need to be ratified by national governments, all of the main party leaders have already staked their positions on the agreement.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has hailed the deal as a way of opening up new markets for Canada and creating new jobs. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has reserved judgment until more details are revealed, but has said his party is "pro-trade." Meanwhile, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has stated that his party won't be bound by the sweeping trade agreement, which he accused the Tories of negotiating in "secret."
Shachi Kurl, senior vice-president of the Angus Reid Institute, said the tentative agreement will be seen as a major win for the Conservatives among their base.
"This is a winner with Conservative supporters," she told CTV's Canada AM from Vancouver, noting that Canadians are generally supportive of trade.
"When you stack it up against other foreign policy imperatives that Canada should be pursuing, looking at foreign aid or humanitarian efforts or beefing up our military or trade – trade wins hands down with Canadians," she said.
Mulcair is also looking to win support with his stance on the deal, Kurl said, noting that the NDP leader appears to be using the agreement to differentiate himself from the other leaders.
"He's tried to run from the centre, run as a frontrunner, and has probably left some of his left-of-centre flank," she said. "This is something he can come back to as a wedge issue, and differentiate himself from Justin Trudeau, who is also trying to run the middle of this particular issue, and galvanize his base."
Mulcair has specifically expressed concern for affected workers in the dairy and auto industry.
Under terms of the deal, cars would be allowed into Canada without tariffs, as long as 45 per cent of their content comes from TPP regions. That's lower than the 62.5 per cent regional provision under NAFTA. The deal would also phase out the current 6.1 per cent tariff on imported vehicles over five years.
Also under the deal, Canada will allow an additional 3.25 per cent of foreign imports into the dairy sector.
On Monday, Harper said Cabinet has already approved $4.3 billion in funds to be paid out to farmers and processors over the first 15 years of the agreement.
CTV News has learned that the Conservative leader will announce more than $1 billion in new measures to help the automotive industry, as the Canadian auto workers' union warns that the TPP agreement will cost the sector 20,000 jobs.
The TPP agreement is one of several issues that have flared up during the election campaign. Other issues that have arisen include the Mike Duffy trial, the economy, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the proposed ban on niqabs during citizenship ceremonies.