The House

Gearing up for NAFTA talks

This week on The House, there's less than a month until NAFTA renegotiations begin and the pressure is on. We check in with Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Politico's trade reporter, Megan Cassella.
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a mechanical tool as he attends a Made in America roundtable in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S. July 19, 2017. (Carlos Barria /Reuters)

The leader of the Official Opposition is calling out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's credentials handling the North American Free Trade Agreement file, less than a month before negotiations with the U.S. and Mexico get underway.

"I've always been worried about Justin Trudeau's attitude towards trade. We saw during the softwood lumber negotiations that he failed to get an extension while President Obama was still in office," said Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer in an interview with CBC Radio's The House.

"He seems so focused on a trade deal with China that nobody wants that they're forgetting and not prioritizing a trade deal that everybody needs. They're not working hard enough on this NAFTA [file] and they're trying to confuse issues now. So I think they're mishandling the trade file."

Leader of the Official Opposition and Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Andrew Scheer, stands with his deputy leader Lisa Raitt as he makes an announcement and holds a media availability at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Thursday, July 20, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In the wake of Trump's inauguration Canadian politicians from various stripes and levels of government have been booking flights south to pitch Canada's merits to U.S. lawmakers with a similar message track.

"The government and everyone, whether it's MPs, premiers, mayors, legislators... I think it needs to be a full-court press to make sure that everyone here understands the importance of that relationship," then interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said from Washington hours before Trump took his oath.

Scheer said his party will continue to represent a united front when Conservative members of parliament are on trade trips, but it's a different story on home soil.

"When it comes to the way that the Liberal government is handling it, when we're talking to Canadians about how these things should be handled, we will always hold the government to account. That's our job," he said. 

The leader of the Official Opposition is calling out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's credentials handling the North American Trade Agreement file, less than a month before negotiations with the U.S. and Mexico get underway. 10:19

Manitoba foresees long road ahead on NAFTA

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister wants Ottawa needs to delay marijuana legalization by a year. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press )

Some of the politicians who have picked up the NAFTA torch include Canada's premiers, who have met with their counterparts and other U.S. officials in the past six months.

With billions of dollars worth of trade and hundreds of jobs on the line, it's no wonder the trade deal was on the table at the annual Council of the Federation meeting held in Edmonton this week. 

"We don't want to upset the apple cart when it comes to the very productive partnership that we have," said Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.

This week, Canada's ambassador to the U.S. offered some advice on how to avoid mishandling the NAFTA file. 

"We have to find ways where he can declare victory without it being seen in either Mexico or Canada as being a loss," David MacNaughton told the Toronto Star this week.

Pallister says he doesn't think it's wise to talk tactics.

"I'm not in the business of helping President Trump quite frankly. I'm in the business of helping Manitobans," he said.

And he's not expecting any resolution by the early 2018 date that's been floated.

"I would suggest this is a negociation which should be entered into sincerely, genuinely and in a straightforward matter," he said.

"I expect the negotiations actually will go longer rather than shorter." 

Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton says Canada needs to let Trump "declare victory" on NAFTA. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says we shouldn't openly talk tactics. 9:58

U.S. perspective 

The Trump administration has sent out their save the date card for NAFTA renegotiations, but the Aug. 16 date is just the start of an arduous process.

Megan Cassella covers trade for Politico out of Washington. (Twitter)

"The Trump administrations is going to have to figure out first how to negotiate the changes with Canada and Mexico to create a new deal that all three sides will agree to, and then they're going to have to push it through Congress and make sure it somehow strikes a balance between giving NAFTA the changes it needs without dismantling trade across North America," Politico trade reporter Megan Cassella told The House.

The United State Trade Representatives' list of objectives, published on Monday, borrows heavily from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump bashed and scraped soon after taking office.

"That's where it's going to get a little politically tricky for the Trump administration. Trump's base was promised an overhaul they were promised they were going to pull out of NAFTA or that they'd completely rewrite it and the U.S. would get its jobs back," Cassella said.

Most of the headlines out of the U.S. concentrated on Trump's failure to appeal Obamacare and the ongoing Russia controversy, but Politico's Megan Cassella has kept an eye on NAFTA from Washington. 6:16

"Based on these objectives that's not what we're seeing."

With Obamacare repeal and Russia investigation dominating the news cycle, the proposed early 2018 deadline is looking more and more aspirational.

"There's a lot going on in Wahsington right now to say the least," she said. But "when the White House wants to change the message and they want to get back to somewhere where they think their rhetoric resonates and where they think they're getting their point across, they turn to trade."

In House panelists Laura Stone and Paul Wells weigh in on the Conservatives' decision to criticize the Omar Khadr settlement on American media outlets, and the Liberals' assertion that that approach might jeopardize the NAFTA talks. 7:47

To unite or not, that is the question 

Jason Kenney, left, and Brian Jean were both on hand to hear federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer address a Stampede barbecue on Saturday. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Saturday is the day where we'll find out if Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP face a United Conservative Party in the next provincial election.

About 40,000 Wildrose members and 50,000 PCs are eligible to vote on an agreement to form a new United Conservative Party.

While PC members have to approve the agreement by a simple majority of 50 per cent plus one, the threshold for the Wildrose is much higher at 75 per cent.

"Ninety, 95 per cent of our policies and ideas are identical. It is that five per cent that is somewhat different but we need to think about how important it is that we consolidate in one movement to beat the NDP in the next election," said Wildrose Leader Brian Jean.

Jean says he's optimitic all the conservative-leaning MLAs in Alberta will come under one tent.

"I think all the MLAs are in a unique time in history. They get an opportunity to define the Conservative movement going forward."

We'll find out this weekend if the members of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose support the idea of merging the two right-of-centre parties. We talk to the leader of the Wildrose, Brian Jean. 5:23

​Bellegarde wants a seat at the Premiers' table

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations isn't satisfied with being on the margins of the premiers' annual summer gathering anymore. That's why Perry Bellegarde decided to boycott this week's meeting in Edmonton.

Along with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Métis National Council President Clément Chartier, Bellegarde decided to skip what he called a "prep meeting" with the premiers on Monday, ahead of the Council of the Federation gathering on Tuesday.

The AFN Chief told The House that First Nations need to be at the same table as the provinces for those meetings, and for all federal-provincial gatherings, saying there have been efforts over the past year to exclude Indigenous leaders instead of including them.

"Whether they're talking about the health accord, whether they're talking about the environment, the economy or education, our voices need to be at those tables. And there were attempts made to lessen that involvement," Bellegarde said.

"We're not warmly invited, it's almost like we have to push our way to get our voices heard at that table."

But the National Chief said he's open to returning to the Council of the Federation meeting next year if significant changes take place.

"Invitation to attend their federal-provincial meetings, invitation to formally attend the Council of the Federation meeting next year, so we'll be reaching out to whoever hosts it next year," he said.

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations isn't satisfied with being on the margins of the premiers' annual summer gathering anymore. That's why Perry Bellegarde decided to boycott this week's meeting in Edmonton. 8:15