Politics·Analysis

Liberal minister Bains calls ex-minister Moore to give credit on interprovincial trade deal

As provinces and territories prepare to release the text of their much-anticipated Canada Free Trade Agreement on Friday, the federal minister on the file called his Conservative predecessor to share a bit of the credit and to say thanks.

'I put a lot of sweat equity into the file': Negotiations began under Conservative government in 2014

Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains (left) and his provincial and territorial colleagues will celebrate their new interprovincial trade agreement Friday. But the negotiations started under former Conservative minister James Moore's watch. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

As the provinces and territories prepare to release the text of their much-anticipated Canada Free Trade Agreement Friday, the current federal minister on the file called the former federal minister to say thanks.

"I work with NDP governments, Liberal governments, Conservative governments. This is not a partisan issue," Liberal Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said after speaking to Conservative James Moore late Tuesday. "We want to strengthen our home field advantage ... we need to work with individuals from different political persuasions.

"I wanted to acknowledge the work done by Minister Moore on this file."

"He's generous to do that," Moore said Wednesday when CBC News asked him to confirm the call. "I put a lot of sweat equity into the file when I was industry minister.

"There are a lot of issues on which Liberals and Conservatives can disagree, there are some issues on which we can agree, and this is one: binding Canada together more effectively through trade and economic integration."

These kudos for erstwhile opponents are becoming a bit of a trend with Justin Trudeau's government. 

After Canada signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union, then Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland crossed the floor of the House of Commons to give her Conservative predecessor, Ed Fast, a hug.

The heaviest negotiating happened under the Conservative watch.

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland crosses the floor of the House of Commons to hug her predecessor, Ed Fast, who spent years working on the CETA deal that was signed over the weekend. 1:10

Then there's former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney — hardly a fan of Liberals, but acknowledged to have close contacts with powerful Americans past and present.

He's consulting with Trudeau's government as it works on its strategy for U.S. relations under President Donald Trump.

When Bains joins his provincial and territorial counterparts in Toronto for the CFTA unveiling, there will be plenty of non-Liberals there, as well as business organizations that don't always sing the government's praises.

All part of the ambition of this exercise, the federal minister said.

"We're seeing all levels of government come together to really put forward historic commitments about regulatory reform," the minister said. "This is really about strengthening our position globally as an economy and making us more competitive."

Team Canada for the win?

Moore was asked how it feels to see someone else finish what he started.

"Hopefully that effort that we put in those years ago has been realized into something that will be meaningful to Canadians," he said. 

But he added, "I'm not convinced that it's going to be the ending quite frankly. These things take time." He wants to see how comprehensive the deal is before judging.

"There's a reason why these things are challenging," he said. "To facilitate east-west trade has been a challenging issue for many governments throughout the sweep of Canada's history."

His success at getting provinces and territories to the table in 2014 was nudged along by what they had signed off on earlier that same year in trade talks with the EU

"At a certain point we look ridiculous if we are allowing European economies and European citizens greater access to the Canadian economy than we allow Canadians," he said. "If you're prepared to allow Germans and French and Spaniards into your province, why wouldn't New Brunswickers be open to allowing British Columbians into your local economy as well?

"It's in my view impossible to argue against."

Two former Quebec premiers - Pierre-Marc Johnson, (2nd from left), who helped negotiate CETA, and Jean Charest (4th from left) who was among its earliest champions - as well as Quebec's current premier Philippe Couillard (2nd from right) went to Brussels for the signing ceremony of the Canada-EU trade deal. Provincial officials were at the table throughout the EU talks. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

Bains agrees that the pressure to be more internationally competitive added a sense of urgency to the interprovincial talks.

But the willingness of the current Quebec government to work with other jurisdictions as well as the overall tone Trudeau has set for working collaboratively and respectfully across jurisdictions have also "helped enormously," Bains said.

Canada's birthday present

Bains said he has heard from shipping companies in his Mississauga, Ont., riding near Toronto's Pearson airport about the headaches they face so long as trucking regulations for weights and dimensions and hours of work are not aligned across the country. 

Energy efficiency standards also vary by jurisdiction, adding compliance and certification costs for manufacturers of things like household appliances that they then pass on to consumers.

And even though he doesn't drink himself, he has heard plenty of negative feedback about how frustrated Canadians are about provincial liquor regulations that don't seem to make business sense.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, left, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, centre, and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announced a new way for residents of their provinces to buy Canadian wines from the other two jurisdiction when premiers met in Whitehorse last July. Full liberalization of alcohol sales is a goal of the new CFTA, but a new process to achieve it won't report back with options for at least a year. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

None of these are solved yet, but Friday kicks off a process meant to fix them.

Last June, a report from the Senate's committee on banking, trade and commerce on dismantling Canada's internal trade barriers called on all levels of government to "let Canada's 150th year end as the country began a century and a half ago: free of interprovincial/interterritorial trade barriers."

"It will make our great nation richer, both spiritually and financially," senators said. "That is the best 150th birthday present Canadians could receive."

The Senate's suggestion appears to have been seized.

The European trade deal and the interprovincial trade deal are now on track to take effect at about the same time: July 1.

'I'm hopeful it's a touchdown but I suspect it will be a field goal. These things take time,' says Moore of the interprovincial deal. 8:01

About the Author

Janyce McGregor

Parliamentary Bureau

Janyce McGregor has covered Canadian politics for CBC News since 2001. Send news tips to: Janyce.McGregor@cbc.ca

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