Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer complained this week that the Trudeau government is putting the renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement at risk by raising non-trade issues related to the environment, Indigenous rights and gender equality.
He may have a point – on two of the three items.
Mr. Scheer is making the same mistake his predecessor, Stephen Harper, did when he suggests that the economy and the environment aren't linked. The environment is not a "social issue," as the Conservative Leader likes to call it.
Canada has good reason to want to prevent NAFTA countries from trying to attract investment by lowering environmental standards – something President Donald Trump seems keen to do.
A majority of Canadians support the carbon taxes that are coming into effect across the country, and it would not be in their interests to see them compromised by a trade deal that lets the U.S. or Mexico take advantage of lower pollution standards. U.S. negotiators, casting a wary eye on Mexico, may be on the same page.
Should Canada go to the wall on this issue? That's hard to judge from a distance. The U.S. position is complicated, to say the least. Mr. Trump can't eviscerate emission standards in the U.S. by himself – Congress is involved, and so are the states. Many of the latter, such as California, outpace Canada in environmental ambitions.
Any final decision will have to weigh the benefits and losses of pushing the environment file, but it is definitely an issue the government should pursue.
But on the other two items mentioned by Mr. Scheer, he's got a point. The Liberals are clearly striking a pose for the sake of voters.
It is impossible to do business in many parts of this country without properly consulting Indigenous peoples. It's Canadian law, NAFTA or no. But demanding that the U.S. and Mexico rewrite their laws on this score is a non-starter, and is almost assuredly something Canada would abandon if doing so put a trade deal at risk.
The same goes for gender equality. It's a real domestic issue – but would Canada walk away from a new NAFTA if it lacked language compelling Mexico and the U.S. to conform to Ottawa's view of things? Please.
Indigenous rights and gender equality are important priorities in Canada. They deserve better than being used as sacrificial lambs by a government that never misses a chance to talk up its brand.