OTTAWA — While Liberals and Conservatives trade accusations that they're hurting Canada's position in the imminent renegotiation of NAFTA, the Trudeau government has tapped the Tories' former interim leader, Rona Ambrose, to help advise on the trilateral trade deal.
Ambrose is one of 13 members of a newly created advisory council on the North American Free Trade Agreement, announced Wednesday by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Other members include James Moore, a former minister in the previous Conservative government, and Brian Topp, a veteran NDP strategist, one-time NDP leadership contender and former chief of staff to Alberta's NDP premier, Rachel Notley.
Non-partisan, Team Canada approach
The membership is designed to demonstrate that the government is taking a unified, non-partisan, Team Canada approach to the negotiations, which are set to start Aug. 16.
The council also includes representatives of various groups that have the most at stake in the negotiations, among them, Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff; Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of automotive parts manufacturer Linamar Corp., and Marcel Groleau, president of Quebec's union of agricultural producers.
Freeland also announced Wednesday the appointment of one of Canada's foremost trade experts, Kirsten Hillman, as deputy ambassador to the United States, and three new trade-savvy consuls general to be located in Atlanta, Seattle and San Francisco.
"With the expansion of our consular presence in the United States and the creation of the NAFTA council, we are furthering Canada's determination to promote Canadian interests and values in our bilateral relations with our main economic partner," Freeland said in a written statement.
Tories, Liberals squabble ahead of NAFTA talks
Other members of the council include Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Annette Verschuren, former president of Home Depot, and Phyllis Yaffe, former chair of Cineplex Entertainment and CEO of Alliance Atlantis who is currently serving as Canada's consul general in New York City.
The inclusion of Ambrose, who retired from politics in May, comes amid a squabble between Liberals and Conservatives over which party has done the most damage to Canada's position in the U.S. just as NAFTA negotiations are about to begin.
The Liberals have accused the Tories of undermining Canada by savaging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the American media over his decision to compensate Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was imprisoned and tortured at the notorious U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after allegedly killing an American soldier during a firefight in Afghanistan when he was just 15 years old.
Trudeau himself has chided the Conservatives for campaigning in the U.S. against the Khadr payment.
"When I deal with the United States, I leave the domestic squabbles at home. Other parties don't seem to have that rule, but I think it's one Canadians appreciate," he said last month.
Newly minted Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has scoffed at suggestions the cross-border anti-Khadr campaign will rile Americans against Canada just as NAFTA talks get underway.
And the Tories have, in turn, accused Trudeau of hurting Canada's position by giving an interview to Rolling Stone magazine, which featured a cover photo of the prime minister last week with the caption "Why can't he be our president?" Conservatives have said the article amounts to poking mercurial President Donald Trump in the eye.
"Why does [Mr. Trudeau] need to do this right now, when it does put in danger the direction and the commencement of these negotiations?" deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt told the Globe and Mail.
The Prime Minister's Office has called that accusation "absurd."