Canada-EU Talks Hit Stressful Patch over Thanksgiving

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Canada-EU talks hit stressful patch over Thanksgiving

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MONTREAL - Provincial support for the Canada-Europe trade pact was only achieved after a stressful moment over Thanksgiving turkey this week.

It was during the Monday holiday that the federal government advised provincial negotiators of its plan to more than double European cheese imports.

To Canada's two biggest provinces, protecting the dairy industry was always a make-or-break issue in these trade negotiations.

So the news proved to be a late-stage irritant. It certainly disrupted Pierre Marc Johnson's holiday meal. The Quebec negotiator was settling in to munch, ironically enough, on some supply-managed poultry when he got the news.

"(We're) having turkey sandwiches and they tell us it's 17,700 tonnes (more dairy imports allowed)," Johnson, a former premier, told reporters Friday.

"We said, 'Are we hearing this right? Maybe there's one too many zeros?'"

He interpreted the 11th-hour, holiday timing of that news as a sign Ottawa was "concerned" that the issue could scuttle the historic deal.

Things were smoothed out over the next three days, with premiers Pauline Marois and Kathleen Wynne eventually consulting each other on how to wrest compensation for farmers in exchange for more European dairy imports.

Both provinces have now declared themselves on board with the project.

In fact, Quebec's opposition party has even said it's "rejoicing" over the deal -- which was initially spearheaded by the Charest government seven years ago.

That doesn't mean the negotiations were problem-free in the later stages, however.

"When they told us (about dairy imports) we were stunned," Johnson said. "I reported this to Quebec City. So we mounted an offensive, with Ontario."

That offensive consisted of demanding help from the federal government for farmers hurt by the influx of European products. Quebec says that compensation mechanism might include money, or import licences, for farmers.

It took three days to work out the details with the feds.

But in the end, Johnson said, he was relieved to see Ottawa agree to compensation -- and even more pleased to hear Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly commit to it Friday during his appearance in Brussels.

Quebec said Friday that it wants to hear some specifics on compensation before its legislature votes to ratify the deal.

Other than that, count the province onside.

The pro-independence Parti Quebecois government has expressed its support for the initiative, which has support on both sides of the provincial legislature. …