OTTAWA — Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is pleading with the opposition parties in Parliament to ratify the new North American trade agreement, saying its passage is in the national interest.
Freeland spelled out the math of the minority government in the House of Commons after tabling a notice that the Liberals will introduce enabling legislation for the trade pact later this week.
It's the first significant order of business for the government as Parliament resumes sitting after a lengthy winter break.
Shortly after tabling the notice, Freeland highlighted the significance of the trade pact's being ratified in the United States, given that country's very polarized politics.
The NDP and Bloc Quebecois are making no guarantees of passing the trade legislation quickly, while the Conservatives have said they want to further study the deal's implications for Canada.
The Liberal government is also expected to introduce legislation to ban military-style assault rifles and make what's sure to be a controversial decision on whether to allow a new oilsands project in Alberta to proceed.
The Liberals have 157 seats in the House of Commons, meaning they need the support of other parties to advance any of the bills on their agenda.
Freeland called passage of the new NAFTA a pivotal moment for Canada in a letter she sent Sunday to leaders of the Opposition parties.
She said while no one expects anything other than a "full, frank, and vigorous debate," she urged them not to hold up the deal.
"Canadian parliamentarians understand that, politics aside, the interests of Canadians come first, last, and always. I am confident this applies to you and to every member of your caucus, as it does for the Prime Minister, me, and every member of our caucus, too," she wrote in the letter.
"Therefore, I ask that we work together, as colleagues, to put Canada and Canadians first, and get this important work done without undue delay."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stressed to his MPs this week that the new mandate is not like their last, and they'll need to work hard to win the support of their opponents to get anything done.
"Bickering, grandstanding, petty politics — none of these things create jobs. They don't make anyone's retirement safer, or our environment cleaner. Collaboration, dialogue, and constructive debate, however, can," he said. "Common ground does exist in this Parliament, but it's up to us to build on it."
On the new NAFTA, the Liberals do have common ground with the ardently pro-trade Conservatives, who control the most Opposition seats.
The party's international trade critic said it doesn't intend to play games with the trade deal bill as businesses need it to get ahead.
But that doesn't mean it gets a completely free pass, said Randy Hoback. Previous trade deals have left some industries behind, and that shouldn't happen again, he said.
"We're going to focus on the results of this deal. We can't change it, the reality is we can't make amendments to this type of legislation because they'd have to go back and renegotiate," he said.
"But what we can do is look at the sectors and industries that are negatively impacted by this deal and not make the same mistakes we've made in the past."
The auto industry will be particularly affected by the new deal.
Under the new terms, 75 per cent of a vehicle's parts have to originate in North America. That’s up from 62.5 per cent under old NAFTA rules. Additionally, 40 per cent of a vehicle’s content must come from factories where companies are paying workers at least $16 per hour.
Canada will be able to export up to 2.6 million passenger vehicles into the United States tariff-free. The limit is well above current levels of about 1.8 million vehicles, and the country isn’t forecasted to reach the quota until at least a decade from now, as vehicle production in Canada declines along with consumer demand, experts say.
Hoback said the Tories want to hear from those groups, and figure out what the Liberal strategy is to mitigate the issue. Whether that work happens before the deal gets signed will be open for negotiation, he said, but it needs to be done.
With Conservative support, the bill could sail through, but the Bloc Quebecois and New Democrats say they won't make that easy.
The Bloc has raised concerns the deal does not provide the same protections for Quebec's aluminum industry as it does for the steel industry and Ontario's auto-manufacturing sector and wants the text fully studied and debated.
The New Democrats say the fact that the deal was negotiated behind closed doors means due diligence needs to be done.
"We're still meeting with industry and workers and talking to Canadians about what this deal will mean for them," said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.