OTTAWA — Inside the Global Emissions System Inc. manufacturing plant in Whitby, Stephen Harper talked up the merits of a landmark trade agreement, one that the company's vice-president thought could help his firm create jobs.
Outside, about two dozen auto workers from the nearby GM assembly plant in Oshawa toted signs wondering if that agreement was going to cost them their jobs.
In between, a Conservative supporter told the protesters to relax: they would soon see the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
"It's no different than children. It's no different than the petulant, five-year old brat that wants it all now," the Tory supporter, who declined to identify himself, said to the union members.
The moment mirrored the battle that unfolded Tuesday on the federal election campaign as the TPP was thrust into the spotlight.
The Tories pushed the economic merits of the 12-nation pact as part of their re-election bid, the NDP and Greens opposed it, saying it was bad for Canadians, while the Liberals said they wanted to see the actual TPP text before making any pronouncements.
Harper promised $1-billion to help the auto industry cope with the repercussions of the phased-in elimination of tariffs on some auto imports over five years — a sign opposition leaders argued that the pact would cost Canadian jobs. The money would be spread in equal $100 million annual payments for 10 years, and is contingent on the Conservatives getting re-elected on Oct. 19.
A day earlier, the government promised dairy farmers $4.3-billion over 15 years to compensate them for any lost income as a result of concessions in the deal.
Under the program announced Tuesday, grants would be offered to companies that make firm commitments to build new auto assembly plants.
"The programs we have here are not compensation programs," Harper said. "They are incentive programs to attract this kind of investment into the sector and keep this kind of investment in the sector."
Speaking in Surrey, B.C., NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said Harper's $1-billion pledge was an admission the deal would kill jobs in the auto sector.
"He's just admitted it by talking about that sort of compensation."
Mulcair also warned workers in the sector to be wary of promised cash from the Conservatives to help with any losses, pointing to Newfoundland and Labrador's experience under the European Union trade deal.
The province believed a $280-million fund could be doled out easily to fishermen whose livelihoods were affected by the trade deal with the EU, but that the Conservatives have said the money was always meant for those who could prove they had lost out financially.
Former Newfoundland premier Danny Williams said in an interview that the Conservatives turned their backs on their "blanket commitment" to the fisheries industry in the province.
"Good trade agreements are good for the country if they're negotiated properly, but you cannot trust what this man (Harper) is saying to you on that agreement," Williams said.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she worried the agreement would increase the cost of pharmaceutical drugs.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he wanted to see the full text before making any pronouncements, arguing Harper "hasn't done a very good job on talking to Canadians about the kinds of benefits that come from trade."
As the debate unfolded, the outlook for the Canadian economy became a shade dimmer.
The International Monetary Fund cut its growth outlook for the Canadian economy to just 1.0 per cent from for the year, due to the drop in oil prices and reduced investment in the energy sector, from its July outlook of 1.5 per cent. The IMF also lowered its Canadian outlook for 2016 to 1.7 per cent from 2.1 per cent.
Statistics Canada showed the country's trade deficit grew to $2.5 billion in August as exports posted their biggest decline since 2012 due to a sharp drop in oil prices.
However, exports of motor vehicles and parts rose 3.1 per cent to $7.8 billion due to a 4.5 per cent increase in exports of passenger cars and light trucks.
Harper said the TPP would ultimately help the auto sector in the long-term by opening up international demand for locally-made products.
Gary Jarosz, the vice-president of the firm Harper visited Tuesday, said the company already exports to Latin America, but often faces tariff barriers. That could change under TPP, he said.
"We would be able to move our product into those countries more cost effectively," said Jarosz.
"If we can find a way to export our products, we'll grow and we'll add employment."
But on the protest line outside, Ron Svajlenko, president of Unifor Local 222, argued with Conservatives supporters that the deal would kill jobs.
"We have to look seriously at building our economy going forward," Svajlenko said. "Trading with countries that pay 50 cents per hour isn't going to take us there."
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