The Liberal government’s concessions on Canada’s dairy market in the new free-trade agreement with the United States are “not a big deal,” former prime minister Brian Mulroney says.
Mr. Mulroney, the architect of NAFTA and the earlier Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement, said it was the former Conservative government under Stephen Harper that first opened up Canada’s dairy sector to Europe under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
“Concessions on dairy, as I understand it, were made in CETA, in the free-trade agreement with Europe. And the Harper government made those concessions on dairy. And they were larger, I think, than those made in the NAFTA negotiations,” Mr. Mulroney said in an interview on Tuesday.
“The concessions in NAFTA were essentially relating to the milk producers in Wisconsin, and so on. I think it was 3.2 per cent or something. Not a big deal.”
Mr. Mulroney made the comments in Antigonish, N.S., where he is attending the grand opening on Wednesday of the new $100-million Brian Mulroney Institute of Government and Mulroney Hall, at his alma mater, St. Francis Xavier University.
The former Progressive Conservative prime minister was responding to claims made in a new book by Blackstone Group chief executive Stephen Schwarzman – whose foundation is a donor to Mr. Mulroney’s new institute. Mr. Schwarzman writes that he brokered a deal between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump that saw Canada make significant concessions in the new North American free-trade agreement, including opening up the country’s protected dairy market to U.S. products.
“That’s his interpretation of what happened. I can only tell you this, that Schwarzman played a key role in the development and negotiation of NAFTA, both from the Mexican perspective and the Canadian perspective,” said Mr. Mulroney, who sits on Blackstone’s board of directors.
"When you sit down to bargain, everybody makes concessions … Everybody has to put water in his wine, or you don’t get a deal.”
Mr. Mulroney also weighed in on the SNC-Lavalin affair that had dogged Mr. Trudeau for months. Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found Mr. Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he improperly pressed former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould to order the Public Prosecution Service to settle fraud and bribery charges against SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., the Montreal-based engineering and construction giant. The RCMP has been looking into potential obstruction of justice, but the federal government has refused to lift cabinet confidentiality for all witnesses.
While Mr. Mulroney said he doesn’t know all the details of what transpired, he said there appears to be no accusation of wrongdoing or illegality on the part of SNC, Mr. Trudeau or his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts.
“In this case, [Mr. Trudeau] had to deal with the minister of justice who apparently had other views from those of the prime minister and his aides. That happens all the time and it doesn’t mean that she was wrong or the prime minister was wrong, it simply means that that’s the way life is,” he said.
“Was anyone charged with a crime or any wrongdoing? The answer is no."
Mr. Mulroney confesses to not following the current federal election too closely. He found the first week of the campaign “pretty inconsequential and not very exciting.”
He said Mr. Trudeau “seems to be off to a pretty good start, as does [Conservative Leader] Andrew Scheer.”
“[Mr. Scheer] works hard, he’s obviously a leading contender. They seem to be tied. He’s running against the Prime Minister who’s a charming guy, and he’s a very good campaigner. And campaigns count in life, as I found out.”
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