Trudeau Seeks to Reassure Canadian Labor on TPP and Bombardier

  • PM says aerospace firm must make business case for state aid
  • Liberals court union group typically aligned with rival party

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a group of Canada’s labor leaders he will “seriously evaluate” the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and give opponents a chance to make their case to Parliament, according to the host of the event.

Trudeau spoke for 30 minutes behind closed doors to the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa on Tuesday, CLC President Hassan Yussuff said in an interview. The newly elected Liberal prime minister reiterated platform pledges on TPP and repealing a pair of union laws passed by his Conservative predecessor, while saying financial aid to struggling aerospace firm Bombardier Inc. would only be given if there was a strong business case.

The comments from Trudeau are aimed at reassuring Canada’s labor movement, which is typically politically aligned with the New Democratic Party. The CLC was a founding member of the NDP, which finished third in the Oct. 19 election after squandering an early lead in the 11-week campaign.

Attendees were thrilled by the prime minister’s appearance, though many labor leaders continue to oppose the Pacific Rim trade pact, Yussuff said. “Time will judge as to whether the government is serious about examining the agreement in its totality and making a final decision,” he said. “They are not going to make any decision in haste.”

Trade Concerns

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed Canada up for the 12-nation deal two weeks before last month’s vote. Trudeau stressed during the campaign that his Liberal Party was pro-trade, but pledged lawmakers would review the text of the pact before ratification.

“He said this will be thoroughly examined by the parliament and more importantly will be debated,” Yussuff said, recalling Trudeau’s speech. “And those of us who have particular concern about the agreement will get a chance to present our concerns to parliamentarians to consider that before they make a final decision.”

TPP will have a “devastating impact” on Canada’s auto sector, the labor leader said. Former Research In Motion Ltd. Co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie has also warned against provisions of the pact.

Bailout Request

Trudeau was asked in the room about whether his government will follow Quebec’s lead and provide aid to Montreal-based Bombardier -- an issue on which he and his ministers have remained noncommittal since taking power Nov. 4.

“There’s no question that high-value manufacturing is going to be an extremely important part of Canada for years to come. Aerospace is a great example of that, as is the auto sector and others,” Trudeau said, according to a partial transcript released by his office.

“How we can best invest and support that kind of manufacturing needs to be done responsibly and with our eyes open, and not just based on emotion or politics or symbols. There has to be a strong business case,” the prime minister said. “We’re going to make sure that decision is taken based on what is in the best interest of Canadians, writ large.”

Closed-Door Remarks

Yussuff said the event was closed to the media and Trudeau’s visit wasn’t announced at the request of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Trudeau pledged again to repeal two laws -- one enacted in 2014 that changed union voting rules and another passed this year that critics said heaped new compliance costs on pension funds. Trudeau was applauded in the room for saying so. “He said, ‘You shouldn’t have to applaud me for keeping my commitment,’” Yussuff recalled.

The closed-door meeting was the first time a Canadian prime minister addressed the CLC since 1958. Harper’s Conservatives had an adversarial relationship with labor, Yussuff said, adding that he’s hopeful Trudeau’s Liberals “will build a new era of labor relations in the country.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.