Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says the terms of a finalized Trans-Pacific Partnership will be made public, but said Saturday the final decision ultimately rests with Parliament, while NDP Leader Tom Mulcair slammed the Tories for "negotiating in secret" and vowed to "rip up" the deal if it puts family farms at risk.
Negotiators in Atlanta are reportedly close to finalizing the colossal 12-country agreement and are expected to table final offers on tariffs and non-conforming measures, according to sources. Critics say the TPP talks have been unnecessarily secretive.
"If an agreement is reached, it is our intent to make it public," Harper said Saturday during a brief news conference in Montreal. "But the final decision will always rest in the hands of the Parliament of Canada."
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The trade deal, which Harper has repeatedly billed on the campaign trail as the largest in Canadian history if it's passed, will create "thousands of jobs" and open more markets to Canadian goods, he said.
There was speculation among political observers late this week and Saturday morning that Harper was going to reveal at his Montreal news conference that a deal had been finalized. However, multiple sources, including influential U.S. trade journals, reported Saturday afternoon that negotiators are not expected to conclude talks today.
The politically sensitive issue of access to dairy markets has been a key point of contention holding up the completion of the agreement, as well as negotiations over some pharmaceuticals, particularly biologics drugs typically used to treat conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Taking questions on other topics from reporters, Harper also stood by his party's positions on the niqab after lively clashes on the controversial issue with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair during the campaign's second French-language debate Friday night.
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Harper said the Tory government's attempts to ban wearing the face veil during the citizenship oath is in line with the opinions of most Canadians.
"The other parties have created difficulties for themselves by taking positions that are simply out of step with the values of Canadians," Harper said.
The Tories have been accused of using the niqab as a wedge issue — especially in Quebec where they are trying to gain some ground after a meagre showing in the 2011 federal election and a province with widespread support for the proposed niqab ban while ignoring other women's issues such as domestic violence and missing and murdered aboriginal women
Harper said Saturday, however, that the Tories oppose "violent crime of any kind."
Mulcair will 'rip up' TPP
During a campaign stop at a Quebec dairy farm, Mulcair vowed to "rip up" the TPP if it puts family farms at risk, while taking aim at Harper for "negotiating in secret."
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"If Mr. Harper is going to sacrifice family farms, yes, we'll tear up the agreement. I can guarantee you that," Mulcair said in the rural farming community of Upton, Que., in the heart of the province's dairy country. It is in the federal riding of Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, one of the seats that went to the New Democrats in 2011.
Negotiations on the agreement have yet to resolve the thorny issue of Canadian dairy import limits. Importers want more than the 10 per cent of shelf space that Canada currently sets aside for foreign milk and cheese.
The NDP said yesterday it would not be "bound" by the deal if it forms government after the Oct. 19 election.
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Mulcair explained on Saturday that, if elected, he would kill the deal by not presenting it to Parliament for ratification.
"This agreement would never come into effect unless it's ratified in the House of Commons, and I will not put before the House of Commons an agreement that sacrifices the family farms of hard-working people across Canada who right now are prospering under supply management," he said.
"It is a system we can and should be proud of. It has to be defended."