NDP open to EU trade deal
OTTAWA—Tom Mulcair is urging traditional NDP allies to wait until they see the fine print of a Canada-European Union free trade deal before assuming it’s unacceptable or that he’s sold out.
The federal NDP leader has parted company with some labour unions, environmental groups, anti-globalization activists, and at least one provincial NDP leader just by expressing openness toward free trade in general and a trade pact with the EU in particular.
Instead, he said he’ll weigh the advantages of expanded trade opportunities against the need to protect the public interest on everything from the environment to banking standards to prescription drug prices.
He’s trying to strike a tricky political balance, as well, assuring corporate Canada the NDP no longer is a bunch of knee-jerk anti-trade extremists—as Prime Minister Stephen Harper likes to depict New Democrats—without alienating traditional NDP allies.
“We’re not buying a pig in a poke. We haven’t seen the final text of this [Canada-EU deal],” Mulcair said in an interview.
“But we’re not giving a blanket refusal either in advance.”
The anti-free trade Council of Canadians has expressed disappointment with Mulcair’s openness to an accord with the EU.
The Canadian Auto Workers union has grave concerns about the impact of a deal on Canada’s car manufacturing and auto parts sector.
And British Columbia NDP leader Adrian Dix openly has worried the deal could extend patent protection for brand name pharmaceuticals, hiking the cost of medications for Canadians.
But Mulcair said such pre-emptive opposition to a deal—before the details are known—is not in the best interests of a country as heavily reliant on trade as Canada.
“You know, if you start off . . . by saying, ‘It’s this, this and this’ and you go around Canada saying, ‘The sky is falling,’ well, if the text proves you right, then that’s fine.
“But the sky hasn’t fallen yet.”
The NDP itself traditionally has taken the Chicken Little approach to trade deals, but that’s changed under Mulcair.
“The difference now is that, instead of just saying what we don’t like about the old agreements, we’re also saying why we’re in favour of more trade,” he reasoned.
“We want to knock down non-tariff barriers,” Mulcair stressed. “We think that more trade is a good thing for Canada.
“A lot of our economy has been built on trade but we want to make sure we are looking at things like labour standards, like environmental protection, like human rights.
“These are things that determine who you want to be on a level playing field with and whether you should be signing these deals,” he said.
Since Mulcair assumed the helm a year ago, the party has supported its first free trade pact, with Jordan, has urged expedited negotiations on a deal with Japan, and wants priority given to negotiating similar accords with India, Brazil, and South Africa—all countries the NDP considers to have sufficiently high labour, environmental, and human rights standards to make worthy prospective trade partners.
Mulcair has been particularly enthusiastic about a free trade deal with the European Union, negotiations on which now have reached the crunch stage.
“It’s a good starting point to be dealing with Europe,” he said. “It’s a 500-million person market.
“They, generally speaking, have institutions quite similar to ours, they have the rule of law, they have independent tribunals, they’ve got long-standing institutional stability that is a good thing for us to be dealing with.”
While New Democrats “are embracing trade, there’s no question about that,” Mulcair stressed it must be “fair trade.”
And he laid down a series of markers for what it will take to secure NDP support of a pact with the EU.
The NDP, he said, would give a “categorical no” to any deal that dismantles supply management of Canada’s dairy industry, although some small concessions on specific types of cheese, for instance, might be acceptable.
It also would not countenance a pact that diminishes Canada’s sovereignty over environmental or natural resources regulation, inhibits provincial auto insurance regimes, erodes provincial or municipal buy-local procurement programs, or dilutes Canada’s banking standards—all sticky issues that remain to be settled in the negotiations.