Ottawa is poised to affix a Canadian signature to the text of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership accord next week, but International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland insists this doesn't mean the government is approving the deal.
The Trudeau Liberals remain officially uncommitted to the trade deal reached by the former Conservative government during the 2015 election campaign.
Ms. Freeland released a statement Monday playing down the importance of Canada signing the Pacific Rim accord text in New Zealand next week and assuring Canadians the Liberals remain on the fence more than 2 1/2 months after taking office.
Ms. Freeland explained that the signing ceremony – where countries confirm with their signatures that the text reflects what was negotiated – is not a green light for the deal.
"Signing does not equal ratifying. Only a majority vote in our Parliament can allow the agreement to take force. Signing is simply a technical step in the process, allowing the … text to be tabled in Parliament for consideration and debate before any final decision is made," Ms. Freeland said in a statement.
Conservative Party Leader Rona Ambrose, speaking to reporters shortly after Ms. Freeland released her statement, urged the Trudeau government to approve the deal.
Ms. Freeland has made it clear she doesn't think it's her responsibility to sell Canadians on the merits of the trade deal.
"It's not my job to persuade anybody that TPP is good … That's not my job right now," Ms. Freeland told a Canadian business audience in December. "We're not the government that negotiated this deal."
The Liberal minister said she's aware that Canadians are divided on the agreement, which was reached on Oct. 5, 2015, and would eliminate Canadian tariffs on Japanese vehicles and make it easier for manufacturers to use offshore parts in cars. It would be a boon for low-wage Asian suppliers of parts, but a challenge for Canadian firms.
She said she's spent two months talking to Canadians.
"After attending public town halls, participating in over 70 meetings and round tables, and receiving feedback from thousands of Canadians who have written to me, it is clear that many feel the [deal] presents significant opportunities, while others have concerns."
Ms. Freeland said she wants to see a major parliamentary debate on the matter. The Liberals have a sizable majority and can easily vote through approval of the deal.
"Throughout this process, our government's guiding principle is that strengthening Canada's trade performance is one of the ways we will work to strengthen our middle class and support high-wage jobs. Canada is a trading nation. As our government has made clear, we want to expand economic opportunities for all Canadians, and trade with our Asia-Pacific partners is key to making that happen."