CETA deal: Free trade opponents 'will lose,' says Harper

One thing came across loud and clear in Brussels as Prime Minister Stephen Harper hailed the new trade agreement with Europe: he cares. A final deal would be major legacy for him on a signature issue - and he doesn't see anyone getting in the way.

For Stephen Harper the economist, it's clear a European deal is personal

Canada-EU trade deal

10 years ago
Duration 2:48
Featured VideoCBC's Terry Milewski has details of the free trade deal negotiated between Canada and the EU

One thing came across loud and clear in Brussels as Prime Minister Stephen Harper hailed the new trade agreement with Europe.

He cares.

This is a signature issue for Harper the economist. Expanding Canada's trade is what he's there for — or so he has suggested, again and again, in his speeches over the years.

Critics have been entitled to say that his drive for more trade has not always gone according to plan. The Keystone XL pipeline. The Northern Gateway pipeline. The free trade agreements that were always promised and rarely materialized.

Until now, the huge European accord was in that category: four years of talk and no deal. And, even now, it's not final — only an agreement in principle. But when Harper called it "the biggest deal our country has ever made … a historic win for Canada," it was personal. He believes it will be finalized and it will be a part of his legacy.

In Brussels, his triumphant news conference did not go seamlessly. Harper twice referred to his counterpart. Jose Manuel Barroso, as "Juan Manuel." The veteran president of the European Commission winced a little, but no more.

'Before the next election'

What Harper focused on, though, was the sense that his opponents on free trade are in retreat.

"I am certainly confident of its adoption in Canada," he said.

"I think anyone who opposes it will lose and make a big historic mistake politically for so doing. And I anticipate that, yes, it will be in place before the next election."

Harper was not done. He went out of his way to return, unbidden, to this topic.

"Ideological opposition to free trade in Canada is really, today, part of a very small part of the political spectrum — a very small and extreme part — and for that reason I think you will find very few Canadians who are opposed in principle to having a free-trade agreement with Europe, which is one of the most progressive organizations in the world."

For Harper, then, the future belongs to the free traders.

He pledges to compensate any cheese producers who suffer. But they won't stop the train.


Terry Milewski worked in 50 countries during 38 years with the CBC. He was the CBC's first Middle East Bureau Chief, spent eight years in Washington during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations and was based in Vancouver for 14 years before returning to Ottawa as senior correspondent.