Trans-Pacific Partnership remains a hot election issue

Stephen Harper’s rivals say they have not been consulted on a possible Trans-Pacific trade deal to be struck with 11 other countries.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair went further, issuing a statement suggesting the government can’t agree to any pact during an election campaign.

Trade Minister Ed Fast is currently in Atlanta, awaiting an anticipated announcement Friday that the Trans Pacific Partnership is a go.

He said the government conducted broad consultations and the opposition parties are privy to information that is available to all Canadians.

But Mulcair says the Conservative government has no mandate to sign a trade deal three weeks before election day.

He says they can stay at the talks and ensure Canada’s interests are represented, but “a government that should be gone in days can’t sign a deal that will affect Canadians for years to come.”

The so-called ‘caretaker convention’ guides a government’s actions in the limbo periods during campaigns, and before new governments are sworn in, to ensure it “exercises restraint.”

But government operations don’t just shut down during elections.

The Privy Council Office’s recently revised guidelines note that there are cases where the party in power has no choice but to make decisions — including multilateral treaty talks.

But the caretaker guidelines also point to bringing the opposition parties into the loop.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says he hasn’t been contacted about the TPP and has criticized a general lack of transparency around the talks.

He says Canadians need to know that their government is negotiating in a way that is going to enhance their country’s opportunities and growth while protecting its interests.

An NDP source says Mulcair was “informed” as opposition leader that the talks were advancing, but his views were not solicited.

Conservative spokesman Stephen Lecce said any trade deal will be tabled in Parliament and put to a vote.

The country’s top negotiator during the formation of the North American free trade agreement believes we should see a deal on the TPP very shortly.

John Weekes said the fact that ministers have been brought there, coupled with the embarrassment of not reaching an agreement during the last round of talks in Maui, will result in a deal being reached.

He told 660 NEWS that cheaper access to the Japanese market is the real key to the deal for Canada.

“If we weren’t part of the T-P-P, then the Australians, the New Zealanders, the Americans would get into the Japanese market with lower tariffs heading down to zero for most of the agricultural products we’re interested in,” Weekes said. “Our industry would be left out in the cold still paying the high duties that are there today like 38.5 percent on beef.”

Weekes said the negotiators from the different countries involved have kept their cards close to their chests, so it is hard to say exactly how this will match up against NAFTA.

— With files from the Canadian Press

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