10/31/2017 15:30 EDT | Updated 09/06/2018 11:47 EDT

Don't Listen To Anything This Man Has To Say About NAFTA

The last thing we need now is advice from Stephen Harper, the guy who only made things worse.

Like an unwanted neighbour crashing a backyard barbecue, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper has wandered into the debate about the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, spouting advice no one wants and no one needs.

Canada's worst-ever trade negotiator, however, has not let his own inability to work out a decent deal stop him from pushing his own ideas about what Canada should do as it tries to renew NAFTA.

We need not listen to anything he says.

Paul Morigi via Getty Images
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks regarding NAFTA negotiations at Dentons NAFTA 2.0 Summit on Oct. 11, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Late last week, a note from Harper on the NAFTA renegotiations was leaked to the media. It criticized the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying it was too quick in rejecting U.S. proposals and is putting too much emphasis on progressive priorities such as labour, gender, Aboriginal and environmental issues.

It's exactly that sort of attitude that lost Harper the 2015 election.

Canadians wanted a government that stood for greater social justice and equity, not one that sacrificed those goals on the altar of trade deals at any cost.

We had enough of that with Harper, and yet his advice to the Trudeau government in last week's note seems to be to panic and give in to whatever the Trump White House wants, just to get a deal, saying, "it does not matter whether current American proposals are worse than what we have now."

Harper's response seems to be to just roll over, play dead and hope for the best.

Wrong. It does matter. It matters a lot if what Trump wants from NAFTA is worse for workers in both Canada and Mexico. It matters to every worker out there trying to build a decent life for their family. It matters to every equity-seeking group if NAFTA or any other trade deal makes getting justice for their communities more difficult.

Harper never understood that. To him, trade deals were about pandering to corporations and ignoring the needs of working people. It was that approach to trade, that framework for an unbalanced and unjust globalization, that has led to the anger we see all round the world now — fuelling the nativism that brought Trump to power.

The Trump administration has been clear that it wants a deal that is good for the United States, even while offering little in return.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the NAFTA trade agreement on Oct. 11, 2017.

Harper's response seems to be to just roll over, play dead and hope for the best. Submission is in his DNA. He seems to believe that any deal is better than no deal. This strategy helped fuel the decline of our manufacturing sector in Canada. We have had enough of that, and want no more.

Harper's willingness to make a deal at any cost got us into the mess we are facing now with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Harper government was desperate to join the TPP, and sacrificed much to get to the table, including a blanket acceptance of all text negotiated up to that point. That forced Canada to negotiate from a position of weakness and with limited ability to shape the deal.

The result was a trade deal that put our auto industry at even greater risk and would bring in an Investor-State Dispute Settlement system giving corporations the right to sue governments in secret tribunals for passing laws that hurt their ability to earn a profit — even if those laws are in the public interest. The TPP would also weaken supply management, lead to higher drug costs through corporate-friendly patent laws and threaten our cultural industry.

His blind trust in free trade at any price got us a deal that has so far been an economic bust for Canada.

The TPP was a bad deal then, and any talk of reviving it should be rejected now.

Harper didn't do any better negotiating a trade deal with South Korea. His blind trust in free trade at any price got us a deal that has so far been an economic bust for Canada. The big winner in that deal has been Korea, as many — including our union — had expected.

Now the former prime minister is imposing his views on NAFTA, inadvertently undermining Canada's own negotiating position. That's just another calculated blunder and an unexpected gift to U.S. trade negotiators.

Canada is working to fix the mistakes of the Harper era. For Canada's sake, Harper should keep his head down. The last thing we need now is advice from the guy who only made things worse.

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