OTTAWA — The federal New Democrats say that if they are victorious in the Oct. 19 election, they won't feel bound to honour a landmark international trade pact the Conservatives are expected to sign on to as early as this weekend.
A scathing letter from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair to Trade Minister Ed Fast also says the government has "no mandate" to negotiate the final details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal between 12 Pacific Rim countries.
"An NDP government will not consider itself bound to any agreement signed by your Conservative government during this federal election," Mulcair writes in the letter released Friday.
The Conservatives forfeited any rights to sign the agreement the day the election was called, Mulcair writes.
The NDP wouldn't necessarily rip up the deal if elected, but would instead seek to change the final wording of whatever agreement is reached.
He says the Tories should have consulted with the other parties under a constitutional convention that an incumbent government only act as a caretaker during elections and not tie the hands of its would-be successors.
The so-called "caretaker convention" guides a government's actions during campaigns, and before new governments are sworn in, to ensure it "exercises restraint."
The Privy Council Office's recently revised guidelines note that there are cases where the party in power has no choice but to make decisions — including multilateral treaty talks.
But the caretaker guidelines also recommend bringing the opposition parties into the loop.
Fast spokesman Rick Roth said any trade deal would be "tabled, fully debated, and voted on in the next Parliament." Roth said Mulcair "knows full well" that would be the case.
The letter is Mulcair's way of drawing a line in the sand to indicate it would take to earn his backing should a deal an agreement in principle be imminent. Negotiators are closing in on an agreement after clearing a logjam on automobiles, with the possibility of a deal being announced as early as Saturday.
The NDP would never agree to follow through an a deal that would impact domestic protections for Canada's dairy industry, known as supply management — "a lifeline that helps many rural communities thrive," Mulcair writes.
He goes on to say that his party would reject the agreement if it hurt Canada's auto sector, or loosened patent and copyright laws that could affect the price of generic drugs.
"These changes will impact millions of Canadians every day. Your Conservative government has not consulted Canadians on any of them, and you have no mandate to trade them away," Mulcair writes.
"Your government forfeited a mandate to conclude negotiations on a major international trade agreement the day the election was called."
The parties to the deal, including Fast, are in Atlanta trying to hammer out an agreement that the Tories say would give Canadian companies access to a group of countries that makes up 40 per cent of the global economy.
That type of agreement could be an electoral boon for the Tories with just 17 days before voting day.
But there are concerns that in return, Canada would peel back market protections for dairy products and the automotive industry, costing domestic jobs. The agreement would likely allow significantly more car parts from cheaper foreign suppliers than under the North American Free Trade Agreement, but would be more multi-layered than the old NAFTA standard.
In Atlanta on Friday, Fast said he was optimistic issues could be solved.
"We are making good progress in trying to conclude those negotiations," he said.
"There's still some work left to be done. But we're optimistic that issue can be solved and we'll have an outcome that will support our Canadian auto sector and ensure its long-term viability in Canada."
The NDP released the letter hours before the second of two French-language leaders' debates, expected to reach many of the voters in Quebec who helped vault the NDP to official opposition status in the 2011 election.
The province also has a large dairy industry, including dairy farmers in the riding of Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, which the NDP is trying to keep after winning it in 2011 — and where Mulcair will be campaigning Saturday.
Mulcair is also scheduled to visit six ridings Sunday in southwestern Ontario — all Conservative and all ridings where the auto sector is key to the local economy.
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