When the 12 country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement was announced, it instantly became the dominant talking point on the federal election campaign trail.
The NDP has already said it might tear up the deal, while the Liberals are waiting for more details.
The deal was announced with just 14 days to go in the federal election campaign. It was followed immediately by the announcement of a $4.3 billion package designed to mitigate the effects of both the TPP and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Europe on the supply-managed sectors of dairy and poultry.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper said Canada achieved virtually all of its objectives during the negotiations while giving up modest market access to supply managed products.
“The cabinet has already approved substantial assistance, some $4.3 billion over 15 years, to make sure that we protect our farmers against any revenue loss or quota loss and that is a critical guarantee,” Harper said. “There will be no losses in that sector.”
Trade minister Ed Fast, speaking at an Atlanta news conference, said negotiators successfully protected the three key pillars of supply management although some thought that would be impossible.
Opponents had criticized the Conservatives for negotiating during an election campaign.
“It would be the height of irresponsibility for a Canadian government to abandon a negotiation like this and not defend the interest of Canadians, which is why Canada stayed at the negotiating table,” Fast said.
After the Oct. 19 election, the new Parliament will debate the deal fully and then vote on it, Fast said.
But NDP leader Thomas Mulcair vowed even before the deal was concluded that an NDP government would not be bound by the terms of a deal negotiated in secret. He said he would rip up any deal that put family farmers at risk.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau issued a statement noting his party strongly supports free trade but the Conservatives had failed to be transparent about the negotiations.
He said a Liberal government would hold a “full and open public debate in Parliament to ensure Canadians are consulted on this historic trade agreement.”
The TPP was making headlines when the campaign began in early August but then faded behind other issues. It’s likely to be back on the front burner as the campaign winds down.
At the national agriculture debate in Ottawa last week, during which dairy farmers protested the negotiations, the TPP discussion drew the most attention.
Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz said the government always said it would protect supply management and negotiators would never put it on the table to the point where the three pillars would be in danger.
He said there is opportunity for supply managed sectors to benefit from trade deals. For example, under CETA Canadian cheese has unlimited access to the European market and the dairy sector could benefit from slaughter dairy cows and veal going oversees.
But NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen said supply management should be retained whole.
He said the government should never have put it on the table in the first place if it wasn’t up for negotiation.
Allen said the NDP would also need to see details before it could decide if the deal is good for Canadians or not.
“We won’t be trapped into saying yes (or) no based on what are they saying or not saying,” he said. “They need to actually give us some information to work with.”
Text of the agreement won’t be available until it has undergone a full legal review. It’s not yet known if the details will be available before voters go to the polls.