Mulcair Says Canada NDP Not Bound by TPP Deal If Elected

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Canada’s New Democratic Party is signaling it will back out of any Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact signed during the country’s election campaign, saying Prime Minister Stephen Harper is overstepping his powers and ignoring domestic outcry.

Leader Tom Mulcair, in a letter sent to Harper’s trade minister Friday, says his party won’t be “bound to any agreement” reached as TPP talks continue in Atlanta if elected on Oct. 19.

“You have no mandate to make concessions that could put thousands of well-paid Canadian jobs and the communities that depend on them in peril,” Mulcair wrote to Trade Minister Ed Fast. “These changes will impact millions of Canadians every day. Your Conservative government has not consulted Canadians on any of them, and you have no mandate to trade them away.”

Canada’s protective system of tariffs and quotas for its dairy sector -- known as supply management -- are a key stumbling block in reaching a 12-country TPP deal, in addition to auto-sector barriers. Farmers protested the deal this week by driving tractors and cattle to the parliament buildings in Ottawa.

Harper has said he will work to protect Canadian interests but his government has regularly said it cannot be left out of a deal. “These negotiations are going to establish what will become the basis of the international trading network in the Asia-Pacific,” Fast said in a statement Thursday. “We need to make sure that Canada is a part of a TPP.”

‘Protectionist Ideology’

Harper has attacked the NDP for “protectionist ideology” during the campaign, but offered little detail on what Canadian negotiators are willing to give up. In his letter, Mulcair said the NDP “will continue to fight for trade agreements that are good for Canada, and stand foursquare against concessions that harm Canadian interests.”

According to the latest national averages compiled by polling aggregator, the NDP is running in third place with 26.8 percent support, behind the Conservatives at 32.3 percent and the Liberals at 30.4 percent. Mulcair’s party held a slim lead throughout the first several weeks of the campaign but has lost momentum going into the final leaders debate in Montreal Friday.

Harper’s government is operating under “caretaker” rules during the election. While allowing it to continue trade talks when “negotiations are at a critical juncture with timelines beyond Canada’s control,” the rules say “irreversible steps such as ratification should be avoided.”

Business Backing

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives have called for Canada to complete the TPP pact. Chamber President Perrin Beatty has called on all political parties to “get behind this ground-breaking agreement.”

Provincial leaders are divided on the TPP, with the premiers of Ontario and Quebec insisting the federal government protect its supply management sector.

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province and its foremost federal electoral battleground, is home to the country’s auto sector and many of its dairy farms. Premier Kathleen Wynne, a Liberal whose federal counterpart is Harper’s top rival, has said she is “concerned” about what a TPP deal would mean for the province’s economy.

“We want that kind of free trade, but at the same time we have to recognize there are industries in Ontario that need some attention and I hope the federal government will be playing close attention to both auto and agriculture,” Wynne told reporters Thursday.

Quebec Concerns

The government of Quebec, Canada’s second-most-populous province and another major dairy producer, also sent a letter to Fast this week that called for supply management to be protected. The base of Mulcair’s support is in Quebec.

“The consensus among the provinces is so strong in favor of supply management that the federal government will have no other choice but to fight to maintain it,” Quebec Economy Minister Jacques Daoust said in an interview Friday. Fast “told us there was no way he was going to negotiate supply management. He doesn’t have that mandate.”

Daoust didn’t say whether the federal government could compensate dairy farmers for any changes. “I’m not looking for compensation. Compensation means that you hurt me,” he said.

Other provinces, meanwhile, favor the pact. In Saskatchewan, a major agriculture, mining and oil producer, Premier Brad Wall said he “strongly supports” the deal and that it will be good for Canada.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, whose provincial NDP won power this spring, also favors the pact.

“I think that overall for most Alberta business it’s going to be an opportunity for them to increase their trade opportunities and the places for trade, so we are cautiously optimistic that it will be good for Alberta business,” Notley told CTV on Thursday.