No, [insert stupid partisan attack] will not derail NAFTA negotiations: Robyn Urback

The Conservatives and Liberals are taking swings at each other, suggesting the others' activities threaten to undermine NAFTA negotiations. But with President Trump, a bad horoscope could undermine NAFTA negotiations.

Liberals, Tories accuse each other of threatening the talks. For Trump, even a horoscope could do that

The Tories have suggested that the recent Rolling Stone cover featuring Justin Trudeau could jeopardize NAFTA talks. (Rolling Stone/Twitter)

Here is a non-exhaustive list of things that might jeopardize Canada's NAFTA negotiations with the U.S.: President Donald Trump's horoscope; too much time between lunch courses, an Alex Jones "exclusive" on mind-controlling pheromones in Canadian softwood lumber, the colour of Ambassador David MacNaughton's tie and/or a dog with a distractingly pouffy tail wandering around the Oval Office.

We are, after all, talking about a White House where major policy changes on the military are tweeted out by the president without informing the Pentagon ahead of time; where a cable news segment can send the commander-in-chief on an unhinged morning rant; where Trump did a complete reversal on his position that NATO is obsolete after a chat with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg; and where Trump previously abandoned plans to pull out of NAFTA because of a couple of phone calls.

Indeed, in the six months that Trump has occupied the Oval Office, there has been virtually no direction, logic or consistency to anything this White House has done. Why should renegotiating NAFTA be the exception?

White House anarchy

The anarchic state of the White House has not exactly gone unreported, which makes the charge that Canadian Liberals and Conservatives are launching back and forth — that the others' actions are jeopardizing trade negotiations with the U.S. — all the more vain.

Sure, a quip from a Canadian politician could throw off NAFTA negotiations, but so could a mixed-up coffee order or a negative psychic reading. Why bother with the hand-wringing?

Last week, the charge came in response to Conservative MP Michelle Rempel's pilgrimage to Fox News, where she told Tucker Carlson Tonight that most Canadians are outraged about the $10.5 million settlement with Omar Khadr. Her appearance coincided with an op-ed by Tory MP Peter Kent in the Wall Street Journal, the goal of which, he said, was to inform Americans about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's payout to a supposed terrorist.

Liberals, predictably, were displeased to see opposition MPs escorting news of the settlement into U.S. prime-time news.

"US announces NAFTA goals & #CPC MPs in US talking...Khadr w #altfacts. Irresponsible. Millions of Cdn jobs at stake," Environment Minister Catherine McKenna tweeted. Gerald Butts, Trudeau's principal secretary, joined in: "Conservatives mount aggressive anti-PM Trudeau campaign in the US, on the eve of NAFTA re-negotiation."

The implication here is that Conservatives are undermining trade negotiations by talking about an issue that every American with an internet connection could read about on their own time.

But if we concede, for a moment, that Khadr talk could indeed influence the president's approach to NAFTA more than, say, the conduct of a White House intern who has a Canadian mom, would the onus not be on the Liberals to delay the Khadr settlement until after NAFTA negotiations?

No, no — it's the Conservatives' interviews that will do in Canada's chances on a fair trade agreement.

Not to be outdone in dumb hyperbole, the Conservatives mounted their own "What about NAFTA?" plea in response to a Rolling Stone cover story about Trudeau.

The 6,000-word back rub was less journalism than, I assume, an attempt at political erotica (standout lines include: "His dark hair is a color found in nature"), but the consequences of the feature are no more serious than triggering a few gag reflexes and perhaps igniting a deep sense of national embarrassment.

Nevertheless, Conservatives are claiming that the story might affect Canada's ability to protect its economic interests.

"This is a serious misstep by the Trudeau regime," Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt said in an interview with the Globe and Mail. "They should have just taken a breath and not sought out this publicity this time because I don't think it's helpful to the overall goal of our country, which is a free-trade deal."

Raitt called the Rolling Stone cover "a serious misstep by the Trudeau regime." (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

When asked about how her colleagues' recent Khadr tour might affect NAFTA negotiations, she responded: "Unfortunately, the Rolling Stone article is far more dangerous to our overall negotiating position than informing the Americans that Canadians disagree with what the prime minister decided."

Raitt is mistaken, however, in assuming there is a hierarchy, rationale, or logic to what the president might find off-putting. Recency is the single most important factor when it comes to negotiating with Trump: he is most influenced by that to which he was last exposed.

These charges that "the other guys" are undermining Canada's ability to negotiate with the U.S. are thus rather meaningless, designed mostly for domestic consumption by those who won't forget about the Khadr settlement or Rolling Stone cover after a day or two.

They are nevertheless wholly ridiculous, and I'd hope both parties would soon abandon them, lest we become numb to their inherent idiocy.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Robyn Urback


Robyn Urback was an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:


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