Politics

TPP trade talks do not violate election caretaker convention, Joe Oliver says

Finance Minister Joe Oliver says the government is well within its rights to negotiate a massive Pacific Rim trade agreement in the middle of an election campaign, despite the so-called caretaker convention, which limits government activity during an election period.

Government activity is supposed to be limited during election period, but Tories rumoured to be close to deal

The Toronto Conservative candidate has been keeping a low profile since the start of the election campaign. 3:46

Finance Minister Joe Oliver says the government is well within its rights to negotiate a massive Pacific Rim trade agreement in the middle of an election campaign.

Oliver is rejecting suggestions that the government's continued pursuit of the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership is a violation of the so-called caretaker convention, which is supposed to limit government activity during an election period.

"There is a protocol in place, and we, of course, consult with the Privy Council on these issues," Oliver said Wednesday during a campaign event in his Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence.

"When there's a matter of importance or urgency for the government to deal with in the national interest, then it's appropriate for us to do that. And this is certainly one of those cases."

Notably, Oliver wouldn't say whether his Conservative Party has consulted its Liberal and NDP rivals on the trade talks.

The caretaker convention stipulates that governing parties are expected to consult opposition parties on matters that could end up tying the hands of future governments.

"I think the convention, as I understand it, is that we can proceed if there's a matter of urgency and importance, and we're doing that," Oliver replied when asked specifically about consulting the Liberals and NDP.

"In certain cases where a major decision is unavoidable during a campaign (e.g. due to an international obligation or an emergency), consultation with the opposition parties may be appropriate, particularly where a major decision could be controversial or difficult for a new government to reverse," the convention states.

"In short, during an election, a government should restrict itself — in matters of policy, expenditure and appointments — to activity that is: 1. (a) routine, or 2. (b) non-controversial, or 3. (c) urgent and in the public interest, or 4. (d) reversible by a new government without undue cost or disruption, or 5. (e) agreed to by opposition parties (in those cases where consultation is appropriate)."

Fast prepared 'to stay here until we have a deal'

Trade Minister Ed Fast is in Atlanta for a renewed round of negotiations, and speculation is rampant that an agreement in principle could emerge by the end of the week.

Fast said he doesn't yet have a return plane ticket to British Columbia where he's in a re-election fight because, he says, completing the deal is critical to Canada's economy.

"What I can say is that Canada is prepared to negotiate, to stay here until we have a deal," the international trade minister said Wednesday.

"We believe we are on track to do so."

He insisted that he's also willing to walk away if necessary: "I can't prejudge whether there will be a deal this weekend... We are only going to sign a deal that is in our national interest."

Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper promised Tuesday to preserve Canada's long-standing protection of the dairy and auto industries. He said his government is "absolutely committed" to preserving Canada's supply management system — a structure of production limits and import tariffs — through trade negotiations.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says he wants to protect supply management, and that Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is risking 80 thousand jobs during an election to get a TPP deal. 2:38

Questions are lingering about what possible concessions Canada might have to make in agriculture and the auto sector to get a deal, which could cast the Conservatives in a positive light ahead of the Oct. 19 election.

The NDP and Liberals have criticized the government for not being transparent about the talks.

Mulcair calls on Harper not to sign a TPP deal

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called on Harper not to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the election campaign.

"The Conservative government has no mandate to sign a trade deal three weeks before election day," said Mulcair in a news release on Wednesday.

"They can stay at the talks and ensure Canada's interests are represented, but a government that should be gone in days can't sign a deal that will affect Canadians for years to come."

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau says it would be "unrealistic" to expect negotiations between 12 countries would stop during Canadian election. 1:17

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who was in Surrey, B.C., on Wednesday, said he'd like to see the government be less secretive, but that it would be "unrealistic" to expect negotiations to stop during the election.

"Make no mistake about it," Trudeau said on Wednesday, "trade is vitally important for Canadian jobs, for growth, for opportunities, for our economic success. And it would be unrealistic for us to expect that the whole world will stop and wait with bated breath for the outcome of Canada's election.

"What we need to know is that our government is negotiating in a way that is going to enhance Canadian opportunities and growth while protecting our interests. Mr. Harper gives us reassurances that that's exactly what he's doing, but we'll wait and see what comes of this."

Oliver focused on re-election

Oliver, who is in a tight race with Liberal candidate Marco Mendicino, said he has been giving priority to his bid for re-election.

"My focus has been Eglinton-Lawrence and winning back, getting the confidence of the electorate here and winning again and returning to Parliament.

"I'm very pleased with the positive reaction. I've been devoting myself to representing the values and interests of the people in this great and widely diverse riding. I think they appreciate what I've done for them and the reaction has been very good."

With files from CBC News

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