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VIEW: Harper’s re-election hinges on CETA, says Ibbitson

Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson bluntly writes, “Stephen Harper leaves for Europe this week without a Canada-European Union trade agreement to sign. Without that agreement, the Conservatives face defeat in the next election.”

He argues, “The Senate expenses scandal and rebellious Tory backbenchers are real and dangerous threats to the Conservatives. But such contretemps often fade with time. The failure to conclude CETA – the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement – with the European Union would be a much greater problem (because) the Prime Minister has dedicated his majority-government mandate to economic growth through trade.” He adds, “Free-trade talks with India and Japan are plagued by domestic instability in both countries. There may be no agreement in the ambitious Trans Pacific Partnership talks until after the Americans hold their 2014 midterm elections. …Failure (to secure CETA) would leave people wondering what the Conservatives managed to achieve after four years of majority government.”

Ibbitson says that Harper may still get CETA signed this week, but there are big obstacles. “Is it possible that the Europeans, sensing weakness on the Canadian side, are playing hardball in the hopes that Mr. Harper will sign anything in order to change the channel from Senate expenses? …(And) because this agreement goes beyond simple tariffs to include quotas, procurement and patents, the provinces must be onside. Quebec and Ontario would veto a bad deal on government procurement as quickly as Western premiers would veto a bad deal on beef quotas.”

Harper arrives in Europe tomorrow (June 11) and will depart after the G8 summit (so likely on June 19). So the next eight days will be very telling.

But while Ibbitson focuses on Harper getting CETA signed, he fails to highlight the necessary ratification of the deal – which could take up to two years, meaning mid-2015 or later. And while he notes the provincial consensus necessary to get the deal signed, he doesn’t note the contentious role provinces (and municipalities) could still play over the next couple years (especially with the CETA text by then made public and an election likely to take place in almost every province before the end of 2015).

Nor does he mention the complicated approval process in the European Union. As we have previously noted in campaign blogs, the passage of CETA requires the approval of the 736-member European Parliament. 369 MEPs voting against CETA would derail the ratification of the deal. More than 100 Members of the European Parliament have already signed a statement that says CETA should not move forward unless Canada withdraws its challenge at the World Trade Organization of the European Union ban on Canadian seal products, which the Harper government has refused to do.

The fight against CETA has really just begun – and as Ibbitson points out, the fate of the Harper government could hang in the balance with it.