Harper to Trudeau: Canada is 'napping on NAFTA' - Macleans.ca

Harper to Trudeau: Canada is ‘napping on NAFTA’

Harper criticizes the rejection of U.S. proposals outright, insistence on negotiating with Mexico, and promoting Liberal priorities like labour, gender and environment

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, attends a news conference where he conceded victory on election day in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015. Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party has swept into office with a surprise majority, ousting Prime Minister Stephen Harper and capping the biggest comeback election victory in Canadian history. (Ben Nelms/Bloomerg/Getty Images)

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, attends a news conference where he conceded victory on election day in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015. (Ben Nelms/Bloomerg/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – Stephen Harper has expressed alarm over his successor’s handling of NAFTA negotiations with the United States, with the former prime minister declaring the negotiations in real peril in a memo titled, “Napping on NAFTA.”

The memo was obtained by The Canadian Press and it criticizes the Trudeau government in several areas: For too quickly rejecting U.S. proposals, for insisting on negotiating alongside Mexico, and for promoting progressive priorities like labour, gender, aboriginal and environmental issues.

The former prime minister says he was worried by what he heard during a recent trip to Washington, where he discussed NAFTA at an event but did not publicly share his misgivings about the Trudeau government.

“I came back alarmed,” said the Oct. 25 letter signed by Harper, and sent to clients of his firm Harper & Associates.

“I fear that the NAFTA re-negotiation is going very badly. I also believe that President (Donald) Trump’s threat to terminate NAFTA is not a bluff… I believe this threat is real. Therefore, Canada’s government needs to get its head around this reality: it does not matter whether current American proposals are worse than what we have now. What matters in evaluating them is whether it is worth having a trade agreement with the Americans or not.”

The current government was not pleased by the letter.

Officials in Ottawa accused the former prime minister of essentially negotiating in public — against the government of Canada. They called the release of the two-page note ill-timed and perplexing.

“This is a gift to the Americans,” said one current Canadian official.

“There’s nothing Wilbur Ross and Robert Lighthizer (from the trump administration) want to see more than prominent Canadians standing up to suggest making concessions to the Americans. Make no mistake: Wilbur Ross and Robert Lighthizer will be very happy with this letter.”

The memo accuses the Canadian government of stubbornness on several fronts.

First, it suggests Canada has been too quick in rejecting American proposals as a “red line,” or “poison pill.” He said such knee-jerk refusals are only a viable strategy if you truly believe Trump cannot cancel NAFTA — an assessment Harper does not share.

Second, he suggests the government made a tactical error by co-operating too closely with Mexico. He says Trump campaigned on constant complaints about Mexico, not Canada, and Harper appears to suggest it was unwise of the Liberals to insist upon renegotiating a trilateral NAFTA: “How did we get ourselves in this position?… The elephant is Mexico… In fact, the U.S. is both irked and mystified by the Liberals’ unwavering devotion to Mexico.”

Third, he criticizes the Liberals for pursuing their progressive trade policies in these talks: “Did anyone really think that the Liberals could somehow force the Trump administration into enacting their agenda — union power, climate change, aboriginal claims, gender issues? But while the Canadian government was doing that, the Americans have been laying down their real demands.”

Finally, he accuses the Liberals of bungling other disputes over lumber and airplanes. Harper says the Liberals passed up on a chance to renew the softwood lumber agreement in exchange for supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he says their subsidies to Bombardier set the stage for huge tariffs today.

The Liberals say that last point about softwood lumber is based on a falsehood.

They say there was never a softwood settlement on the table, and that claims to the contrary are wrong. As for the progressive trade agenda, they point to recent polls showing that improved labour and environmental standards in NAFTA are exceptionally popular in the U.S., and they say some of these provisions could help win crucial ratification votes from Democrats to actually get an eventual deal through the U.S. Congress.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland scoffed at Harper’s missive.

“We will continue to defend Canadian interests,” Freeland tweeted on Friday night. “Capitulation is not a negotiating strategy.”


Harper to Trudeau: Canada is ‘napping on NAFTA’

  1. Harp needs a job to occupy himself…..perhaps as ambassador to Outer Slobovia.

  2. Harper’s advice is exactly what the snowflakes need.

    • What Little Stevie Hasbeen is saying is that if he hadn’t been booted out of office, by now he’d have licked all he polish off tRump’s shoes, sent the Canadian military to die in Iran and North Korea and handed the ownership of the tar sands to the tRump Organization. Because, when it comes to dealing with Republicans, Tories only know how to kneel.

  3. Dear Steve … please go back to your cave … in case you didn’t figure it out when we booted your sorry a$$, Canadians don’t give a sh*t what you think … about anything …

  4. Harper comment suggests he thinks a bad deal is better than no deal. Glad he is not negotiating for us . He would sell us down the river and thank Trump for the opportunity.

    • Yep. Same guy rolled over and played dead rather than defending Canadian renewable energy manufacturers from US trade imperialism. The same guy who shrugged off US sanctions on Canadian softwood. The same guy who hosted goodbye parties for Canadian manufacturers going south. During his time in office manufacturing jobs disappeared at an extraordinary rate even in the much touted auto sector (Canadian auto sales increased at about the same rate as auto jobs went south). While many manufacturing jobs went to Mexico, Harper’s advice is to ignore trade issues with the Mexicans. This is a guy who even rebranded a recession he created.

  5. I have to say, sticking to priorities like labour, gender, environment and aboriginal issues is absolutely essential to a long term, vigorous, healthy trade… what is trade if human well being is not part of the “deal”?

    • You’re missing the point: ‘liberal priorities like labour, gender, environment and aboriginal issues’: these are Liberal priorities, not Conservative priorities which are antithetical to these issues. He might also have added immigration, travel restrictions and human rights; all things that are anathema to he of the “old stock Canadian” and “barbaric cultural practices” memes (nothing has changed with the new CPC leader). In his time, trade issues were reduced to ‘where can we sell more oil?’.

  6. Stevie, Stevie, Stevie. Here you go using divisive politics again. There is a reason that you were heaved Steve. Shame on you for putting your ego ahead of the Canadian people.

  7. Given the choice between the high road, national interest, united front, Canadian values, and the usual Harper low road, personal vindictiveness, anger, Party first, Harper will always take the low.
    His pro Bannon/Trumpism on Canadian issues is indicative of what the future holds now that Rebel Media has moved into the Conservative Party Campaign headquarters.
    It’s here folks. But we’re hearing not a word of concern from the media except for Walrus I guess.

    • Reminds you of when he went to New York to support Bush on Iraq and stab Chrétien in the back.

  8. The justice in all this is that when NAFTA collapse it will devastate the economy of Sourthern Ontario, the same region that elected and sent these incompetents to negotiate this treaty to start with.

    It will become clear that electing leaders based only on their last name, and “coolness” can have painful consequences.

    • Little harsh on Freeland. Even Post/Sun columnists don’t say she’s incompetent. Of course they may think it!
      But she is in charge. Called delegation. Good thing.

    • Oh Kerry,
      Using fear mongering theories, party first, the low road again?
      It is clear what it is you support and no it should not be about the party you support it should be about the betterment of our country.

      ”it does not matter whether current American proposals are worse than what we have now. What matters in evaluating them is whether it is worth having a trade agreement with the Americans or not.” harper.

  9. Are Canadian’s just that willfully stupid of their history?

    Prior to 2006 — Canada had signed a total of 5 trade agreements.

    Under Harper — we signed 39 MORE trade agreements.

    Under Trudeau — we have signed ZERO (0) trade agreements. Harper left the TPP for Trudeau to ratify. Has he done it??? No — of course not!!! JT said he would — and he has not! Anyone want to make a bet that JT will ratify TPP???

    Who are you going to put your stock under — Trudeau who has ratified 0 trade agreements or Harper who ratified 39 trade agreements?

    • Chippy, you do realize the TPP is in limbo because of your idol, tRump. You conservatives are really having trouble with reality. Trudeau just signed a free trade agreement with the EU. That’s what 27 nations?

      • The TPP was signed over a year before Trump got elected. Obama failed to take the treaty to the Senate to be ratified.

        Trudeau had a full year with Obama to get a new softwood lumber deal, but instead of accomplished something useful, he tossed negotiations aside so he could get a State Dinner in his own honour at the White House from Obama. #BendingOverForBarack rather than #StandingUpForCanada.

      • Why don’t you stick to topics you know.

        Obama — “NAFTA’s shortcomings were evident when signed and we must now amend the agreement to fix them.”
        Obama — “we can’t keep passing unfair trade deals like NAFTA that put special interests over workers’ interests.”
        Obama — He suggested in an interview with Fortune this week that he doesn’t want to unilaterally renegotiate NAFTA, adding that “[s]ometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified.”

        Just as it did six years ago, the Harper government again played down the idea that the agreement was being reopened.
        “We are not re-negotiating NAFTA,” said a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is in Mexico for Wednesday’s so-called Three Amigos summit with Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

        So tell me — who was more honest? Obama who campaigned to reopen NAFTA — or Harper who told the public that “we are not re-negotiating NAFTA”? In hindsight we all know that your hero Obama was LIEING!

  10. Even if one accepts that Harper’s criticisms are valid, a public letter is just not the place to make them. We should be showing a united front, not disunity.

    • Stevie Hasbeen is a Conservative, not a patriot.

    • Harper’s criticisms were NOT public. There were in a private letter/memo to his clients.

  11. I don’t know too much about politics. But I think what Harper is basically saying is that you have to look at Trump as though you are in a partnership with him and he has the upper hand (because of course he is representing the USA). Canada is taking the ‘let me bring me friend to on summer vacation” approach. I think it is so much more serious than that. Each party should act independently. I don’t think Trump wouldn’t of made concessions for Canada, but the approach could bring into question whether or not Trump wants to deal with Canada after its tie to Mexico. Trump has to build a wall remember! Not good. Every man for himself in the beginning. Someone will have to send trump some maple syrup and tell him its just our culture to be friendly with the outcast.

    • Brilliant comment, and thank you! You are very awake this a.m.!

      • Trudeau displays a huge H for hypocrite, on a global scale.
        We often see this with conceited and greedy people. They have no intelligence when it comes to thinking outside of their parameter, nor on other perspectives, than themselves.

        Trudeau trashes ALL Canadians for our inhumane treatment of our own peoples, on the world stage, then passes bills using names from hostile countries, which include demands to penalize other countries inhumane behavior.

        Including clauses of what Canada deems humane in NAFTA, is the perfect picture of a man who has no direction in life, at the expense of a nation.

        So much duplicity in this lost moron, he can no longer excuse it, apologize for it, nor correct it!
        That is not right and it is not honest nor honorable to all those who pay for Trudeau$ services.

        For far too long this “little” man has been an embarrassment to Canada, in the eyes of the world!
        Last Halloween he had the gal to dress up like Jesus!!!

        • Louise, Take your med. You are delusional.

  12. Mr. Harper, after all that has been done to trash you and your many years of good service,
    YOU sir, are a still a beautiful man and spirit!!!
    It takes courage to offer wise and knowledgeable advice to a man-child leader and his colorful but imbecilic caucus, who only know how to throw away money and spend money…
    like teenage girls on a shopping spree in Montreal!
    Thank you sir. YOU are MY Amen!
    May God/Allah bless you with His Purpose, Protection, Provisions, and mostly His Presence.

    • May God/Allah bless you with His Purpose. I very much doubt Allah would bless harper ‘barbaric practices’ remember?

    • My goodness, Louise, speaking of “teenage girls”, you sound like one who has gone gaga over your idol. And like all mindless teenage crushes you are showing less mind than most.

      “Courage” like when Harper, along with Stockwell Day, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Canadians supported the US led Iraq invasion in 2003. Where were those Weapons of Mass Destruction Louise??Then finally, after Gilles Duceppe cornered Harper in the 2008 election debates about Harper’s writer plagerizing portions of the Australian Prime Minister’s defence of said war and which Harper repeated in the House of Commons did Harper FINALLY admit that the war was a mistake. But only becaue he was cornered.

      “Courage”. Like Harper hiding in the closet during the gun battle on parliament hill and then having to apologize to his caucus the next week. The original spin was that security had wisked him away into the closet. The only trouble is, there was no security around.

      Harper was handed a comfortable surplus by Paul Martin and immidiately started cutting taxes. He succeeded in increasing our National Debt by 34% or around 160 billion dollars mostly due to his stupid populist two cent GST cut. NOT the fiscal crisis (which he never saw coming) as the Cons love to whine about. Trudeau has a mess to clean up now and that GST cut is now costing each Federal Govt going forward 17 billion dollars (including interest from the accumulated GST revenue lost) in lost revenue annually. Harper was incompetent fiscally and otherwise and he should keep his mouth shut while negotiations are going on.

  13. Trudeau has forgotten everything he had promised before his election and during his tenure, especially when dealing with terrorists, from hostile countries who have taken hostages…
    “Canada does NOT pay for hostages”

    No doubt in my mind that the countries harboring terrorists, will collect on our Canadian money from these men, threatening and kidnapping their families and friends for bounty, because they have no funds of their own to take care of their men and women, and none to purchase arms.

    Many many great lives were murdered to abide by this rule not to pay terrorism…now Trudeau will pay for any Muslim…4 votes. Such a nasal, ignorant and spineless little puke!

    • Well you are entitled to your opinions but not to create fictitious facts, what you said above is B.S.

  14. A Reform Conservative trashing Canada while cheering Trump. Nothing more. Nothing surprising. They always do that and that is precisely why a Reform Conservative government in Canada with Trump still in place is entirely untenable. It would be an estate sale of Canadian interests in monumental proportions.

  15. I am not a Harper Fan, but he may be right. Underestimating the American negotiation strategy may become a recipe for disaster for us. We have equally to lose if NAFTA fails if not more. Wilbur Ross agenda can be read in an attachment cited in the article below. It is clear that Freeland’s comments are not helping. She needs to keep quiet publicly while the negotiations are ongoing. In this case, if Americans take a hard stand on NAFTA terms and conditions, there may not be any tears left. Worst of it, what if Americans take a hard stand on TN visas and send hundreds of Canadian workers back home. It will be a disaster for us. All Harper is saying is tread the negotiations with caution, tone down the rhetoric as Americans have a structural advantage over us right now. The strategy should be to lie low, negotiate hard, resolve conflicts expeditiously and do not make public comments that may get Freeland some publicity but become a case of “Operation Successful, Patient Died”. By the way, everyone must read this article on TN Visa. No one is speaking about the elephant in the room.


    • To be honest, I never thought that TN visa changes could be impending. I always thought why would Americans want to lose few thousand highly educated tech workers that speak the language and are already a part of the sub-continent. I tend to agree that our politicians needs to calm down as unintended consequences could be borne by our kids and grand-kids who get better opportunities south of border. Seeing the statistics, It is entirely plausible that NAFTA visas will be tightened and now it does not surprise me seeing the statistics. My question to our journalists is that why has this topic not been adequately debated. This is surely of concern to everyone and is indeed the “elephant” in the room.

  16. I think the Hon. Mr. Harper has made some good points. Mexico is really the elephant in the room for free trade, this is because free trade does not work with countries that just under cut the others. How much American and Canadian manufacturing has moved to Mexico to take advantage of slack safety and workers rights. The average Mexican auto manufacturing worker makes $3 per hour so 10x less then a Canadian or American auto manufacturing worker. With no tariffs to even things out companies will of course take advantage of that as its only good business in their eyes.