If, as many of us believe, the Trans-Pacific Partnership becomes a major issue during the upcoming election campaign, then British Columbia could be Ground Zero in that fight, with Alberta also affected. Here's why.
The 12 nations that are negotiating the TPP, as it's commonly known, are expected to announce the new trade pact next month. Embracing countries from Japan to the United States to Australia to Chile, and including Canada, the new trade area will be the largest in the world, encompassing 40 per cent of global GDP.
Stephen Harper will almost certainly sign the agreement and vow that his government, if re-elected, will ratify the treaty in Parliament. He's hoping that the Liberals and New Democrats will oppose the deal, turning it into a wedge issue that will drive pro-trade voters toward the Conservatives.
But six months ago, that hope appeared vain.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau declared his party's strong support for the recent free-trade agreement signed between Canada and the European Union. The Liberal Party supports the TPP talks in principle.
The Conservatives are widely expected to surrender at least some tariff protections for dairy and poultry in order to be included in the final TPP deal. The Liberals will probably criticize the government for not working harder to protect dairy and poultry farmers, but will announce its support for TPP as well.
Otherwise, Mr. Trudeau would have to explain why his party, which claims to put the concerns of middle-class families and jobs above all others, would be willing to freeze Canada out of the most important regional trade bloc on the planet.
With the Liberals likely to support the TPP, it looked as though the issue was off the table. And then along came Tom Mulcair.
Mr. Mulcair has made the NDP much more pro-trade than it was in the past. The party supported a free-trade agreement with South Korea, and agrees in principle with the European Union pact, although the party is waiting to see the final text before making a commitment.
But supporting the TPP will be very hard for Mr. Mulcair. About half of Canada's dairy farmers are in Quebec, and the NDP is determined above all else to protect its new Quebec base.
Here's a prediction: Some time during the election campaign, the NDP will declare it supports the trade treaty with the European Union, but opposes the TPP, saying the Harper government has betrayed the nation's farmers.
That will be very good news for Mr. Harper because the NDP, not the Liberals, have emerged as the Conservatives' greatest threat. The rise of the New Democrats and the swoon in Liberal fortunes has brought the TPP back as a major wedge issue, especially in British Columbia.
Imagine this: We are in the heat of the election campaign. Stephen Harper is in Surrey (or Richmond or Burnaby or anywhere on the Lower Mainland). He is in full battle cry. The Conservative Party wants to make British Columbia Canada's front door, he will say. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will accelerate Canada's transformation into a Pacific, rather than Atlantic, nation. Canadian exports to Vietnam, Mexico, Malaysia and other TPP countries will create thousands of new jobs in B.C. and Alberta.
But all of that will be lost if Thomas Mulcair becomes prime minister and rips up the TPP to protect a few farmers in Quebec.
It won't be pretty. It will be effective. In straight Conservative-NDP fights in the Lower Mainland, it could tip the balance in the Tories' favour. In Alberta, where the New Democrats are hoping for gains in the wake of the provincial NDP win, opposing the TPP could end those hopes.
This is why the TPP could be so important in this autumn's election. And it is why, on election night, all eyes will be on B.C.