U.S. President Barack Obama will likely prod Justin Trudeau to speedily ratify a massive Pacific Rim trade deal when the Prime Minister heads to Washington in March.
Mr. Trudeau should smile politely, return to Ottawa and continue ragging the puck – as Mr. Obama did for so long on the Keystone XL pipeline.
This isn't about payback. Canada's wait-and-see approach to the Trans-Pacific Partnership is politically prudent, given the deal's precarious path to passage in the U.S. Congress.
Canada is in good company. None of the 12 countries that signed the TPP earlier this month have passed the sweeping deal in their legislatures.
The government's official line is that Canada is in a period of consultation on the TPP and hasn't yet made up its mind whether to ratify. Ottawa has promised full parliamentary scrutiny and debate before that happens.
"It's a job and we're working on it," Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters earlier this month.
The obstacles to TPP ratification are far greater in the U.S. than anywhere else. Leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives, whose support Mr. Obama will need to get the trade deal through, have said they oppose the deal in its current form. Republican Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, said recently that the votes to approve the TPP aren't there now, and may never be. In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insists he won't bring the agreement to a vote before the November election.
That means the only short-term hope of passage is that the so-called "lame-duck" Congress votes on the deal in the roughly two months interregnum between the election and the inauguration of a new president in January, 2017.
Further complicating the U.S. political landscape, most of the remaining Republican and Democratic presidential contenders oppose the TPP.
The Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who has a commanding lead in his party's polls, is spewing the most anti-trade venom. He would dump the TPP, undo the North American free-trade agreement and convince Congress to slap tariffs on all goods U.S. companies produce outside the country.
"The TPP is a horrible deal," Mr. Trump complained during a Republican debate last fall. "It is a deal that is going to lead to nothing but trouble. It's a deal that's designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone."
Given the possibility of a Trump candidacy, if not presidency, the other 11 TPP countries would be foolish to get out in front of the United States.
But Canada should be mindful of sitting on the fence for too long. It could energize critics and lead Canadians to interpret the ho-hum attitude as a sign that Ottawa might actually reject the deal.
There is already a modest groundswell of opposition to the TPP in Canada – voices that could grow much louder if the Trudeau government does not publicly challenge them. Former BlackBerry co-chief executive Jim Balsillie is waging a spirited campaign against the agreement's intellectual property rules, claiming it will stifle Canadian innovation and entrench the rights of U.S. intellectual property owners, including drug and technology companies.
Many IP experts vigorously dispute Mr. Balsillie's complaints, and insist the TPP does relatively little to change the status quo for Canada on the issue.
Ottawa might like a clear net-benefit analysis of the TPP for Canada. It won't be easy. Economist Dan Ciuriak, who's doing an evaluation of the deal for the C.D. Howe Institute, told the Senate foreign affairs and international trade committee earlier this month that the income gains to Canada may total just $3-billion to $4-billion from tariffs reductions and the elimination of other barriers.
This calculation suggests that the cost of not joining the TPP may be relatively low. But the analysis does not tally the possible substantial cost of not joining if rival countries gain preferential access and market share in the vital U.S. and Japanese markets at Canada's expense.
Ottawa should not discount the possibility that Mr. Obama gets his cherished deal before he leaves office.
The longer the Trudeau government sits on the fence, the greater the risk that it finds itself, perhaps inadvertently, on the wrong side.