CETA: Matthew Kronby, ex-negotiator (UPDATED)

[UPDATED with comment from Ed Fast’s office, below – pw]

We’re all chuffed at news that Matthew Kronby has found new work at Bennett Jones. It’s a great law firm, and we’re sure Bennett Jones is right when they say his appointment “solidifies” its “position as a leader” in trade law. After all, Matthew Kronby was the government of Canada’s lead lawyer on the CETA trade deal with Europe and —

— Wait. What?

Indeed it is so. From the Bennett Jones release:

Matthew was the Government of Canada’s lead lawyer in the negotiation of trade and investment agreements with Singapore, Colombia, Peru and most recently, the trade agreement with the EU. He was Canadas negotiator on improvements to the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Understanding. He has advised ministers, policy officials and regulators in many federal departments and agencies on trade compliance issues ranging from climate change to import controls to product regulation and covering sectors from financial services to energy, agriculture [ed. note: they said agriculture — pw] and aviation.

Job offers sometimes come at awkward times, but it’s kind of super-awkward to be walking away from the federal government’s most important trade initiative when you’re the lead lawyer on the file. And negotiations are almost two years past the original deadline. And every week more cities pass municipal resolutions asking to be exempted from the trade deal’s provisions. And coverage of leaked intellectual-property language from the negotiating sessions is making headlines across Europe. (Hat tip to Michael Geist for that last.) And the patent-drug lobby is hosting swishy Ottawa dinners with Brian Mulroney to vaunt the merits of a deal with Europe (because our drug patent protection would harmonize with theirs and pharma research would, presumably, increase as a result).

And the question nobody can answer for me is: How is it that a now-majority government that has been working on this file for five years with the unanimous consent and active cooperation of the provinces hasn’t closed the deal yet? I remember sitting in the Polish ambassador’s residence in early 2011 as they speculated on the possibility of signing a deal while Poland had the rotating EU presidency, which would have been between July and December of 2011. No dice. Denmark’s turn just expired. Still no deal. To Cyprus, then, before the end of 2012? Ireland or Lithuania next year? Could a deal collapse?

Don’t ask Matthew Kronby. He’s left the building.

UPDATE, 5:31 p.m.: But Rudy Hrusny, spokesman for Trade Minister Ed Fast, is on the job. He sent along the following comment:

“Our government is committed to the highest standards of government ethics, transparency and accountability.

“Post-Employment measures are in place to ensure that public servants minimize the possibility of real, apparent or potential conflict of interest between their most recent responsibilities within the federal government and subsequent employment outside the federal government.

“This includes a strong commitment to keeping government information confidential.

“Both Canada and the EU are committed to a comprehensive and mutually beneficial trade agreement – an agreement that will bring tremendous benefits to workers and families in every region of Canada.”

This is mostly in response, not to my questions about timing and the likelihood of a trade deal, but to the Council of Canadians, which was complaining about the “revolving door” between government and the big trade-law firms. As for the man in question, iPolitics contacted Kronby and he says he left because he didn’t like the commute. Such issues are real enough; indeed that’s basically what this month’s Atlantic Monthly cover story is about.

As for a trade deal, it’s imminent, we’re told, as we’ve been told for the past two years.