Canada’s Liberal Government May Not Change TPP Text

Canada’s newly elected Liberal government has announced that they are making no promises that anything will change in the TPP text. The news comes the day the text of the 6,000 page agreement was officially released.

If you don’t like some of the things in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, tough. That’s the message the Liberal government has sent out the very same day the text of the agreement was released. The news is follow revelations earlier this week that newly elected prime minister Justin Trudeau agreed to promote the TPP in a phone call with the prime minister of Japan. From the Globe and Mail:

The new Liberal government in Ottawa is making no promises about renegotiating a massive Pacific Rim trade deal now that the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement has been made public.

Instead, Justin Trudeau’s international trade minister is urging Canadians to review the accord, which numbers 6,000 pages. The text was released early Thursday.

“I really want to invite all Canadians – not everyone is going to read the full 6,000-page text — but please familiarize yourself with it,” Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Ottawa.

Ms. Freeland said the Liberals plan to consult Canadians on the deal before Parliament ratifies it.

From a political strategy standpoint, what the Liberal party seems to be trying to do is overplay the power they have over the agreement. Some have questioned whether or not the government could renegotiate anything in the agreement in the first place if it even wanted to. To make matters worse, just reading the Intellectual Property chapter alone revealed, among many things, that there are clauses explicitly forbidding governments from overriding anything when they go to ratify it.

So, with a treaty that’s seemingly all or nothing and is being sold as a sort of “must-ratify” agreement, what is the political strategy in this move given that it’s unlikely the needle will move on any policy buried within this 6,000 page document? Some of what may be at play is the re-branding the Liberal party has been going through now that the Conservative party is gone.

Domestically, Conservatives were known for being closed to the public, dictating to the public what government policy is going to be, ignoring criticism, and going so far as to outright attack some of the more prominent critics. The Liberal party would like to, at least on the outside, change that perception. With the unmuzzling of scientists, having a more open immigration policy, and trying to say to the public that the government is now open and more accountable, the Liberal party is trying to sell the image of sunny days ahead and everyone is going to live happily ever after.

Of course, the issue of the TPP puts them politically in a bind. Some people honestly, and mistakenly, believe that the agreement is a Stephen Harper deal. It certainly had many of the hallmarks of what the image ended up being for the Harper government in that it was closed to the public, negotiated in secret, and being forced down the public’s throat after. Little surprise that some think this is a Harper thing, but the reality is that this agreement is a multi-national corporate deal. Harper was little more than a spectator in the grand scheme of things given how many policies Canada caved to. It’s far bigger than being merely a Canadian issue. All one needs to do is look at the number of countries involved to see that.

So, if the Liberals are trying to be this open and accountable government trying to ratify the most secretive and far reaching deal the country is facing right now, what are they to do? The good news is that the agreement text was released, so they were largely spared the controversy of the deal being secret in the first place out of pure luck. So, the thing to do to try and sell this is exactly how they played it out: pretend that they actually have power to change what is bad and celebrate what is good even though they don’t likely have that power in the first place. By telling Canadians to go ahead and read the agreement, they are buying themselves time which is being used to enact completely unrelated policies to build up perceived credibility with the public.

Fast forward to when ratification comes up, legitimate criticism might possibly be muted in the public debate by pointing to some of the other unrelated things the Liberal government has done. Look at Trudeau, he permitted scientists to speak and brought in tens of thousands of refugee’s, clearly Canada can trust him on the TPP when he says there’s nothing wrong with it. A sort of straw man if you will. Whether or not things will play out precisely like that is another story, but this is certainly a very plausible strategy the Liberals might be dreaming up at the moment. Already, as we touched on earlier, there is a strategy to paint opposition of the TPP (i.e. the NDP) as simply being against trade even though many who oppose the agreement have very specific reasons to be against the deal.

Regardless of the Liberal strategy to slide this agreement through, the opposition has to continually build up a case against the agreement. They do have plenty of ammunition that can be utilized through the text itself, so that would be working in their favor. As long as the list of cited reasons to oppose the agreement keeps building up, so will the momentum. As long as the pressure from opposition builds, Canada will still have a fighting chance to keep this agreement at bay.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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