THE BLOG
10/18/2018 15:35 EDT | Updated 10/18/2018 15:49 EDT

When It Comes To Trade, Andrew Scheer Is Full Of Hot Air

It's easy to sit on the sidelines, or even further away, and make big pronouncements about what you'd get if you were at the table.

If Andrew Scheer has a coherent and constructive argument to make on trade, I really wish he would make it.

Over the summer, the leader of the federal Conservatives lashed out at the governing Liberals as Mexico and the U.S. held one-on-one talks to move the negotiations along. I challenged him at the time to explain what he'd have Canada concede to get a deal, but never heard back.

Then he tried to say Canada gave away too much to sign the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal replacing NAFTA.

Now he is trying to claim that he'd have got a better deal.

It's easy to sit on the sidelines, or even further away, and make big pronouncements about what you'd get if you were at the table.

Well, as someone who has spent his working life at bargaining tables, and was part of the advisory team for the USMCA talks, I can tell you that a know hot air when I see it — and Scheer is full of it.

Just this week, Scheer told the House of Commons that he felt the USMCA contained "very generous" concessions on drug patents.I

"[The government] capitulated on pharmaceuticals, agreeing to Donald Trump's plan for higher drug costs for Canadians," Scheer said.

Really? Does that mean Scheer supports pharmacare in Canada as a way to mitigate the cost of medications in this country? If it does, Scheer needs to stop fudging and say so. In an interview with Global news, for instance, he dodged a direct question on whether he supports pharmacare, saying government should cut taxes instead.

It's worth noting that It was the previous Harper Government, of which Scheer was a member, that first opened the door to drug patent extensions under its European and Pacific trade deals, CETA and TPP.

It was also in these negotiations that the Harper government first offered up major dairy concessions.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP
A selection of artisanal cheese is displayed at the production facility of Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser in Noyan, Que., on Oct. 11, 2018.

Those deals made Trump's demands for patent extensions and market access for milk like shooting fish in a barrel. Once Harper opened the door, others were going to want to walk through.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made that much clear at the start of the talks to revamp NAFTA, saying in an interview with Bloomberg Television that the Trump administration expected Mexico and Canada to match previous trade concessions in NAFTA.

"We would view those as the starting point," he warned.

The job of Canada's negotiators for the USMCA was to manage those expectations and get what they could for them.

What they got was a deal that was certainly better than the North America Free Trade Agreement negotiated by the Mulroney Conservatives a generation ago.

This new deal took the first real steps to addressing the needs of working class Canadians by including language designed to promote free and independent trade unions in Mexico — not the company unions that held workers back.

From the beginning of the talks, my stance, and that of the Canadian government, was that no deal is better than a bad deal.

Low wages that encouraged companies to move jobs south were also addressed with a Canadian initiative to include requirements that 40 per cent of the content of a car and 45 per cent of a truck must come from plants paying workers on average US$16 an hour, about C$20.

As well, cars must contain 75 per cent North American content to be considered North American made, up from 62.5 per cent under NAFTA, and Canada was effectively exempted from Trump's threat of tariffs on cars and trucks.

These provisions alone directly address some of the major issues that caused good auto jobs to leave Canada, and will go a long way to help address the drain of jobs to low-wage Mexico, as well as setting a precedent for future trade deals.

The deal also rids us of ridiculous legal privileges for investors that have cost Canadians hundreds of millions of dollars in arbitration awards, and includes a vital exemption for our cultural industry. It also lifts a restriction that prevented Canadian broadcasters from benefiting from lucrative Super Bowl ad spots.

From the beginning of the talks, my stance, and that of the Canadian government, was that no deal is better than a bad deal. It was the right stand to take, but one Scheer apparently couldn't stomach.

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Now we have the spectacle of Scheer saying that if he had been at the table, he would have got Canada a better deal.

It's tough to see how he could have done that given his previous desperation to get a deal, any deal — not to mention his party's history of bad trade deals under Harper and Mulroney, as mentioned.

Vague and unhelpful statements will only get you so far. At some point, you need to actually take a stand and clearly outline a coherent and constructive game plan.

I'm still waiting.

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