Conservative Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to recall Parliament for an emergency session this summer to pass legislation to ratify the 11-nation Trans-Pacific free-trade agreement – a move the governing Liberals dismissed as "playing games”.
In a letter to Mr. Trudeau sent Thursday, Mr. Scheer asks the Prime Minister to request that the Speaker recall the House of Commons as soon as possible to debate and pass Bill C-79, which would implement the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Citing recent U.S. tariffs targetting Canada’s steel and aluminum industries and an uncertain trading relationship with the United States, Mr. Scheer said it is essential to diversify Canada’s trading relationships. On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau shuffled his cabinet to create a portfolio for former natural resources minister Jim Carr as the new Minister of International Trade Diversification.
“Now, with the U.S. administration’s announcement that it will not sign a new North American Free Trade Agreement ahead of the U.S. midterm elections in November, it is even more urgent that we act to expand and diversify our trading relationships,” Mr. Scheer wrote. “This is also an opportunity for you and your new Minister of International Trade to demonstrate to Canadians that you are serious about improving Canada’s trade prospects.”
He also said recent “uncertainty” regarding the passing of legislation in the Senate justified recalling the Commons this summer. The Senate has become more unpredictable since Mr. Trudeau began appointing only independent senators and has made changes to government bills, although it has often deferred to the elected Commons on major pieces of legislation.
Mr. Scheer’s office turned down an interview request on Thursday. Spokesman Brock Harrison said Mr. Scheer was in Edmonton with his family on Thursday to attend a party fundraiser and was about to leave on two weeks of holidays.
The Conservatives already attempted to fast-track the agreement through Parliament before the summer break began on June 22, but were blocked by the New Democrats, who are opposed to the deal.
The CPTPP is a new free-trade agreement among 11 Pacific Rim countries, including Canada, Japan, Australia and Mexico that was signed in March after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the original 12-member pact in 2017.
However, the agreement can only come into force when six countries have passed their own legislation and the Liberals say Canada is expected to be among them. So far, Mexico and Japan have done so, with Singapore expected to soon. The government’s bill ratifying the agreement was introduced into the Commons on June 14 before Parliament broke for the summer.
In a tweet sent Thursday, Mr. Carr said Canada is “absolutely on track” to be among the first six countries to ratify the agreement. His spokesman, Joseph Pickerill, noted that in order to expedite the bill it will require unanimous consent from all parties, and the NDP is firmly opposed to the agreement, saying it will hurt Canadian industries.
“We have a plan to diversify our markets and are doing just that,” Mr. Pickerill said. “Meanwhile, the Conservatives choose to play games while the NDP choose to put their heads in the sand. Unanimous consent requires a Team Canada approach.”
NDP’s international trade critic Tracey Ramsey said the CPTPP will put further strain on Canada’s auto industry, which is facing possible 25-per-cent U.S. tariffs on autos and auto parts.
“The Liberals and Conservative view [auto and manufacturing workers] as expendable, and quite honestly this is stabbing them in the back when this is a sector who is fighting with everything they have to stay afloat given the Trump tariffs,” she said.