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federal election 2015

Conservative leader Stephen Harper addresses a gathering as he attends a campaign event in Trois-Rivieres, Que., Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015. Canadians will go to the polls in the Federal election Oct. 19.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

The Conservative government appears to be backtracking on its pledge to provide Canadians with the fine print of the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade accord before voters go the polls.

On Oct. 5, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the agreement – the biggest trade deal in Canadian history – he said he expected to release the "full text … in the next few days." Three days later, International Trade Minister Ed Fast told a Vancouver audience this disclosure was imminent.

This was supposed to enable Canadians to judge for themselves whether this huge deal, encompassing 40 per cent of the world's economic output, is good for them.

Ten days later, with election day coming Monday, Mr. Harper is no longer offering any timelines for a big reveal of the wide-ranging Trans-Pacific accord.

Asked Thursday when Canadians will see the TPP deal, Mr. Harper had no answer.

"In terms of the text, as you know, the parties, the 12 countries, continue to work on that," the Conservative Leader said during a campaign stop in Trois-Rivières.

The Conservatives tried Thursday to defuse concern about the missing text by offering opposition parties an in-depth briefing on the working text of the TPP deal. An e-mail from the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister's Office, said the other parties could get a "chapter by chapter" but would have to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Tory sources said the government has been stymied in releasing the text publicly because the 12 negotiating countries are still hammering out the technical details in some areas.

The Liberal Party and the NDP rejected the offer, which would have given them more information but subject to an embargo when the deal is finally made public.

Liberal candidate John McCallum, in a letter to Mr. Harper, spurned the offer, calling it a "political ploy," and urged the Tories to make public the text they have.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, also in a note to Mr. Harper, said it wouldn't be fair to Canadians.

"Stephen Harper is desperate to keep his trade agreement secret and keep Canadians in the dark until after election day," Mr. Mulcair told a rally in Sherbrooke.

Mr. Harper said the Conservatives have said as much as they could about the deal. "We have released detailed chapter summaries and we will release the text as soon as it becomes available."

He said as far as he is concerned, the deal has received "overwhelming support from virtually all sectors of the Canadian economy."

The United States has pushed for this deal as a means of instituting American-style commercial rules in Asia and creating a counterweight to Chinese influence in the region.

The deal would reduce the domestic content requirements for autos sold in Canada and allow in a substantial amount of foreign dairy products. The Conservative government announced a $4.3-billion compensation plan for farmers hurt by the agreement.

Separately, Mr. Harper played down the impact the trade deal will have in allowing companies from TPP member countries to bring foreign workers into Canada.

The Globe and Mail reported this week that the TPP would exempt international companies in Canada from requirements to offer jobs to Canadians first. Like Canada's existing trade pacts, it contains provisions that would make it easier for companies from TPP countries to bring temporary foreign workers to their operations in Canada. Employers from some of those countries would also be exempt from a minimum-wage floor Ottawa established in 2014 to ensure foreign workers on intracompany transfers are paid the prevailing wage for their occupation.

Mr. Harper suggested the number of foreign workers who might benefit from this was small.

"This is generally for highly skilled workers, intracompany transfers, these sorts of things," the Conservative Leader said, noting Canada would enjoy the same benefits in other TPP countries. "We get reciprocity in terms of those movement in terms of workers."

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