Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Tories Say Harper's Letter Doesn't Change Their Approach to NAFTA

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Tories Say Harper's Letter Doesn't Change Their Approach to NAFTA

Article excerpt

NAFTA letter catches Tories off guard

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OTTAWA - Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole was sitting in the departure lounge at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., last week when his eyes landed on a story he wasn't expecting.

"'Napping on NAFTA': Harper blasts Trudeau government handling of negotiations,'" read the headline on a Canadian Press story about a memo written by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

"What?" O'Toole recalled thinking. "Oh, dear."

Harper had shared gloomy thoughts on the deal a few weeks earlier during an event in Washington, but the memo, which castigated the Liberals directly, was a rarity for an ex-political leader who has largely stayed away from any direct remarks on the current government since the 2015 federal election.

That the memo suddenly found its way into the public domain -- he'd been writing them for months and none have ever surfaced -- left political observers scratching their heads. Who would leak it? And why?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wouldn't directly address the letter or its potential implications when asked about it on Monday.

"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."

O'Toole was sitting at the airport having just wound up a trip to D.C. with the House of Commons foreign affairs committee to advocate for Canada's interests at the NAFTA talks, part of an ongoing collaborative approach the Conservatives are trying to take to the negotiations.

Harper's letter took a swing at Canada's negotiating strategy, suggesting the Liberals were letting the Americans run all over them and putting the future of NAFTA in real danger.

Some Tories say quietly they suspect an attempt to harm the Conservative Opposition and undermine leader Andrew Scheer's efforts to make a break from the Harper era.

The Liberals say Harper has jeopardized the talks by playing politics with the united front Canada is trying to put forward.

"I think he's got a grudge to hold and he's more interested in putting stuff out there that is going to do damage to our negotiating positions," Liberal MP Bob Nault, the chair of the committee, told CBC's "As It Happens."

Scheer said he didn't understand why the Liberals were making such a fuss. …

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