Freeland blasts Tories, but thanks NDP for support on pushing new NAFTA forward
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Freeland blasts Tories, but thanks NDP for support on pushing new NAFTA forward

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Chrystia Freeland speaks with the media before Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday February 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has offered effusive thanks to New Democrats and stinging criticism of the Conservatives after the NDP supported the minority Liberal government’s efforts to more speedily ratify the new North American trade agreement.

Freeland said the government wanted to end study by a House of Commons committee of the new deal, which replaces the quarter-century-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

Both the United States and Mexico have formally ratified the new pact, which was reached after the Trump administration in Washington foisted a renegotiation on its two continental allies in 2017.

President Donald Trump repeatedly threatened to rip up NAFTA during the 13 months of acrimonious negotiations among the three countries.

Getting a new deal became the Liberal government’s top priority because of Canada’s massive economic dependence on access to the United States, its biggest trading partner.

Freeland has had cabinet responsibility for Canada-U.S. relations during that time as foreign affairs minister and now as deputy prime minister.

Freeland said Tuesday the Commons trade committee will end its hearings on Feb. 28, allowing the ratification to move forward. The Liberals needed the support of at least one other party to get their way, because they don’t command a majority in the House of Commons.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointedly excluded Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer from a meeting of party leaders talking about blockades raised by Indigenous people and supporters over a pipeline project in B.C.

Talking about moving the trade deal along, Freeland said she was surprised that Conservatives wanted to extend the study into March but was grateful to New Democrat MPs for supporting the government.

“The Conservatives had sought to extend debate at committee on the new NAFTA beyond March 12. We think that that is too long, and would have created unnecessary needless and dangerous uncertainty in the Canadian economy,” Freeland said.

“It will be a surprise to many Canadians who voted for Conservatives in October to learn that their Conservative MPs are less supportive of free trade, less supportive of economic certainty in Canada’s relationship with the United States than the NDP is,” she added.

“I leave it to the Conservatives to explain why they believe that partisan bickering is more important than a principled support of the national interest.”

The Progressive Conservatives under Brian Mulroney ushered in the 1988 Free Trade Agreement with the United States and won a federal election over the Liberals to be able to do that. The Progressive Conservatives began expanded negotiations to include Mexico in the early 1990s before NAFTA was born in 1994 after the Liberals won power.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2020.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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