Liberals get NDP support to fast-track NAFTA bill through committee
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Chrystia Freeland speaks with the media before Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday February 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
OTTAWA -- The minority Liberal government has found a dance partner to see that the implementation bill for the renegotiated NAFTA deal gets expedited through the House of Commons: the NDP.
After her appearance at the House International Trade Committee on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland touted the agreement that will see the debate and clause-by-clause study of Bill C-4 wrapped up by that committee by Feb. 28. That'll put the bill back before the Commons for a vote to send it to the Senate by early March.
The agreement on that timeline for the legislation to implement the updated trilateral trade deal in Canada was approved with the support of the NDP and despite opposition from the Conservatives, Freeland made a point of noting. The minority government needs the backing of at least one other party to pass any of its initiatives in this Parliament.
"The inescapable and somewhat astonishing conclusion today is that the NDP has a greater commitment to certainty in the Canadian economy, the NDP has a better understanding of the value of trade with the United States than the Conservative Party does," Freeland said in the House of Commons foyer.
This backing—and a commitment to support passing the deal when it comes for its final vote in the House—is the result of a deal that the NDP's export promotion and international trade critic Daniel Blaikie says is in the works with the Liberals.
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Blaikie said that the NDP and Liberals are working towards a yet-to-be-finalized agreement focused on how coming trade deals will be negotiated. He said this movement is the result of negotiations he's had with Freeland.
"This is the work that the NDP was sent here to do, it was sent here to negotiate with other parties in order to make a meaningful difference," Blaikie said. "We know that we can't change the deal and that's why we chose to focus on what we could change, which is how we get better deals in the future."
Blaikie said that while the new NAFTA is not the deal the NDP would have signed on to if it were a part of the often acrimonious negotiations prompted by U.S. President Donald Trump, it was improved by the Democrats in advance of their domestic ratification process.
"We've got a lot of Canadian business and a lot of Canadian jobs on the line and we've had some very unique circumstances throughout the negotiations, including the improvements made by Democrats, and if we don't approve this deal we're talking about either staying with the status quo or going back to the original free trade agreement of the late eighties which had its own problems," Blaikie said.
Both the U.S. and Mexico have ratified the agreement, leaving Canada as the only outstanding nation. The deal cannot come into force until all countries pass it.
On Tuesday the House International Trade Committee also agreed to invite the House Agriculture and Agri-Food Committee; the House Industry, Science and Technology Committee; and House Natural Resources Committee to study portions of the deal that pertain to their expertise, and report back to them with any suggested changes by Feb. 28.
The Conservatives— who supported the deal during the vote to send it to committee--wanted a few more weeks to study the new deal, but Freeland said waiting that long would "have created unnecessary, needless, and dangerous uncertainty in the Canadian economy."
In her criticism of the Conservatives, Freeland noted that American lawmakers were able to pass the deal—referred to as USMCA south of the border—in "a matter a weeks." The implementation legislation was tabled by the Liberals at the end of January, though the Commons has only been in session for a week since.
The opposition parties were also keen to get their hands on an economic assessment on the deal, which Freeland said is still being worked on by departmental officials, but will be made public when it's completed.