OTTAWA -- Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says it’s "crazy" for the Conservative party to think that the government’s push to strengthen environmental protections and add "progressive" chapters on indigenous rights and gender to the new North American Free Trade Agreement means Canadian jobs would take a backseat in the talks.

McKenna refuted Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole’s assertion that jobs haven’t been the priority of the government in the talks so far, because as she said, jobs go hand-in-hand with the Liberal’s other NAFTA pursuits.

McKenna and O’Toole faced off in a debate airing Sunday morning on CTV's Question Period with Evan Solomon, after the pair came to blows online recently over comments O’Toole made in an interview with The Canadian Press. In that interview, O’Toole said the Conservative party would back the Liberals during the renegotiations if they stayed focused on jobs, and not “virtue signalling” by pushing for the addition of new chapters to the trade deal.

Ahead of NAFTA renegotiations, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spelled out that Canada’s priorities would include making the 23-year-old deal “more progressive,” by adding new chapters on indigenous rights and gender, and strengthening labour and environmental protections.

"We are absolutely 100 per cent focused on jobs," McKenna said. "Jobs are jobs in the environment. Jobs are jobs for women. Jobs are jobs for indigenous people."

Amid the talk of making NAFTA more progressive, the government hasn’t said enough about key areas for Canada’s economy, like export access for the auto sector, or softwood lumber, said O’Toole.

"If we don’t secure an agreement on the fundamentals of trade to insure that the hundreds of thousands of jobs in Canada are maintained and enhanced, we then can’t work on the extra items that are also important like environmental issues. The priority needs to be on jobs," O’Toole said.

He suggested the "extra" chapters be negotiated after the big things are settled.

"Many of them [the priorities] aren’t related to trade, they’re not related to market access… that has to be the focus here. Many of them are signature pieces for Mr. Trudeau from his campaign, but that has to be secondary to the jobs that we need to keep from NAFTA," he said.

McKenna called this suggestion "crazy," because "the key priorities are the same. The environment is the economy."

"We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We have a number of different tables and we’re negotiating at these tables."

The third round of NAFTA negotiations come to Ottawa later this month, beginning Sept. 23 through to Sept. 27.

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