OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is taking the high road on a letter from his Conservative predecessor Stephen Harper that says the current federal government has been caught “napping on NAFTA.”
Trudeau refused Monday to address the letter directly, citing his ongoing respect for the office of the prime minister and its previous occupants. Instead, he delivered a familiar sales pitch on the current government’s efforts to secure a better, more modern trade agreement.
“We have continually made the extremely strong case to the Americans about how important trade with Canada is, how many good jobs in the U.S. depend on trade with Canada, and how we are very much of the view that we can improve and modernize NAFTA in a way that can benefit all three of our countries,” Trudeau told a news conference.
“We will continue to work diligently to stand up for Canadian interests while remaining constructive and firm around the negotiating table.”
Harper’s letter excoriated the Liberal government for what he described as a cavalier approach to U.S. President Donald Trump, whom the former prime minister is convinced is not bluffing when he threatens to abandon the trade pact.
What’s more, Harper wrote, Canada has been too quick to reject American proposals, and has alienated the U.S. by insisting on negotiating alongside Mexico, and by promoting progressive priorities like labour, gender, aboriginal and environmental issues.
“I fear that the NAFTA re-negotiation is going very badly,” Harper wrote in the Oct. 25 letter.
“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.”
Trudeau refused to acknowledge the contents of the letter directly.
“I hold the office of prime minister in high regard, and because of that I hold former prime ministers in high regard, and will not make any comments on what he had to say.”
Canadian government officials have already dismissed the letter as a “gift” to U.S. negotiators, insisting that capitulating to U.S. demands at the NAFTA table would be a tactical error.