"Look, it's always a matter of, 'How much?''' Harper said Tuesday, a day after he announced the federal cabinet had already approved a 15-year, $4.3 billion fund to protect the dairy industry.
"We want these benefits to ultimately be of significant net benefit to the Canadian economy. We don't want it to be all taxpayers doing it.''
The money for the auto industry would be set aside over the next decade and is contingent on the Conservatives getting re-elected on Oct. 19.
It is intended to help that sector deal with the elimination of tariffs that would come if the Pacific Rim trade pact is ratified and would take effect in 2017-18, when an existing subsidy program ends.
Harper stressed that it would be unfair to compare the supply management sector of dairy with the export-oriented auto business.
"We believe that this deal offers enormous benefits for the automobile sector,'' he said at a manufacturing facility that serves the auto industry.
"In fact, I would go to the other extreme, which is if we were outside this deal, that would be devastating to the sector.''
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.''
But as he lauded the merits of the TPP, resentment simmered outside. About two dozen auto workers from the nearby GM assembly plant in Oshawa protested.
Under the tentative trade agreement, a 6.1-per-cent levy on auto imports would be phased out over five years. Cars would be allowed into Canada without tariffs as long as they have 45 per cent content from the TPP, lower than the 62.5 per cent threshold under NAFTA.
Unifor, which represents 40,000 unionized workers in the auto sector, said the TPP could put 20,000 jobs in jeopardy.
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