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Conservative leader Andrew Scheer speaks to reporters after a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is firing back at the Liberals for linking a Tory MP’s recent trip to Washington with ongoing trade negotiations, accusing the government of using a “cynical political strategy” to distract from stalled trade talks with the United States.

In a strongly-worded statement released on Saturday, Mr. Scheer said Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s “pathetic attack” on Conservative backbencher Kelly McCauley is part of the Trudeau government's attempt to use the North American free-trade agreement “to suit their partisan purposes.”

“This is clearly a cynical political strategy trying to capitalize on stalled negotiations,” Mr. Scheer said in a statement.

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“We should expect to see more of this the longer we go without a deal.”

Mr. Scheer was reacting to a Globe and Mail story published on Friday, in which Mr. Garneau accused Mr. McCauley of “actively obstructing” the government’s achievements at the negotiating table when he visited Washington last week for a whistle-blowers’ conference and meetings, including at the Pentagon.

Mr. McCauley, a first-term Edmonton MP, declined a briefing and an offer to bring Canadian embassy officials to his meetings, noting it was not a requirement. An embassy spokeswoman confirmed that the embassy always offers support but it’s “absolutely” up to the visiting MP or senator if they want to accept it.

“For an MP of any party in the House of Commons to freelance meetings with the Pentagon, turning away support from our Embassy, is not only improper, it’s irresponsible,” Mr. Garneau said.

Mr. McCauley said his meetings with the U.S. Small Business Administration as well as James Geurts, assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy for research, development and acquisition, were directly related to his work on the House of Commons government operations and estimates committee. He said they had nothing to do with NAFTA talks.

“Despite this, and despite ongoing updates from Mr. McCauley’s office to the government on the status of the trip, Trudeau dispatched a senior Liberal cabinet minister to carry out a desperately partisan and laughable attack,” Mr. Scheer said.

Mr. Scheer said the Liberals have in three instances launched “flimsy attacks” against Conservatives in the context of trade negotiations. Mr. Scheer's spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for clarification, but in recent weeks two stories have emerged about former prime minister Stephen Harper’s trip to the White House last month to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow. In a leaked audiotape released after the trip, Mr. Harper told a business audience in Montreal that he believes neither Canada nor the U.S. wants a renegotiated NAFTA deal, a claim that was dismissed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who said he would not “play partisan politics” with trade.

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Derek Burney, who served as Canada’s ambassador to the United States from 1989 to 1993, said the embassy’s offer to help with an MP’s visit is “more of a courtesy” than anything else. “In my experience, it is normal for the Embassy to offer to accompany visiting MPs of any stripe on meetings with the Administration but they are not obligated to accept,” he wrote in an e-mail.

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