Federal Politics
Labour + Industry

NAFTA’s Death Would Be Cheered by Working Canadians, Says Union Leader

Jerry Dias says deal hurt working class and its failure would be a boost for Trudeau.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 15 Jan 2018 |

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

Walking away from North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations would likely give the Liberal government a popularity boost among Canadian workers, says the national president of the largest private sector union in the country.

Unifor’s Jerry Dias, which represents more than 310,000 members, said if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland quit the negotiating table over the troubled deal, they’d get a pat on the back from Canadians on the shop floor.

“Working class Canadians absolutely will see him walking away as a sign of courage and will see it as a good move,” Dias said. “Because working class people are the ones who have felt the pain as the result of terrible trade deals.”

Such deals harm blue-collar Canadian jobs as they head to places with cheaper manufacturing costs, including Mexico, he said.

Dias has served as an adviser for the negotiations for the deal, which will commence again in Montreal Jan. 23 to 28.

Freeland has said Canada is considering its options should the United States abandon the deal.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who sparked the renegotiation of the 25-year-old agreement, recently told the Wall Street Journal progress was being made on NAFTA and “there’s no rush.”

Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull out of the deal if he isn’t satisfied with it.

The U.S. was poised to officially quit NAFTA this spring if no new deal was reached, but Friday Trump’s comments signalled he’d be open to an extension. Negotiations were already extended beyond the end of 2017.

But Dias said the Trump administration has too many demands to which Canada and Mexico will not concede, making a deal unlikely. Demanding 50 per cent U.S. parts in Canadian-made cars and getting rid of the dispute resolution process are among them, he said.

He said the Liberal government will better protect Canadian workers than the previous Conservative government did when it negotiated other deals. He blamed free trade ideology in past governments for forsaking the interest of workers in what he said are bad trade deals like Canada’s agreement with South Korea.

If NAFTA negotiations fail because Canada can’t get a good deal, it’ll be good news for Canadian workers who didn’t support NAFTA in the first place, he said.

“Both Canadians and American workers lost their jobs, the Mexican workers got the jobs but they were never compensated for it,” Dias said. “So they really created NAFTA to create a very cheap labour pool.”

University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman said Canadians have warmed up to NAFTA over the years, but he doesn’t think many Canadians will cast a vote based on how the Liberals fare in their negotiations.

Wiseman said it’s likely the trade deal could end up in bilateral negotiations between Canada and the U.S. and result in a few tweaks despite the U.S. president’s bluster.

Trump is a “narcissist” and is really only interested in being able to brag he has a deal, which should be good for Canada, he said.

“The guy seems totally uninterested in content,” Wiseman said. “For him it’s the projection that he’s done something and thus it should be popular.”  [Tyee]

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