OTTAWA — Stephen Harper hit the hustings Tuesday morning touting a landmark trade deal, and new money to pay for any ill effects the agreement will have on the domestic auto sector.
The Conservative leader announced a $1-billion package to help the auto industry cope with the repercussions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, following a $4.3-billion package for dairy farmers.
The $1 billion Harper pledged would be spread in equal $100 million annual payments for 10 years, and is contingent on the Conservatives getting re-elected on Oct. 19. The dairy farmer pledge is for that funding to be spread over 15 years.
Under the program announced Tuesday, grants would be offered to companies that make firm commitments to build new auto assembly plants.
“The programs we have here are not compensation programs,” Harper said. “They are incentive programs to attract this kind of investment into the sector and keep this kind of investment in the sector.”
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the money is being used to “buy off favoured sectors” and “simply punish taxpayers” with unneeded spending.
The signing of the 12-country Pacific Rim pact dominated talk on the election trail Tuesday, as Harper’s opponents raised questions about the deal, while auto workers protested outside Harper’s event in Whitby, Ont.
Statistics Canada showed the country’s trade deficit grew to $2.5 billion in August as exports posted their biggest decline since 2012 due to a sharp drop in oil prices.
However, exports of motor vehicles and parts rose 3.1 per cent to $7.8 billion due to a 4.5 per cent increase in exports of passenger cars and light trucks.
The International Monetary Fund cut its growth outlook for the Canadian economy on Tuesday to just 1.0 per cent for the year, due to the drop in oil prices and reduced investment in the energy sector.
The forecast is down from the IMF’s expectation in July for Canadian growth of 1.5 per cent. The organization also lowered its Canadian outlook for 2016 to 1.7 per cent from 2.1 per cent.
Harper said the deal would be a much needed boost to the Canadian economy, and ultimately help the auto sector in the long-term by opening up international demand for locally-made products.
Speaking in Surrey, B.C., NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called on Harper to release the full text of the agreement before Canadians go to the polls on Oct. 19 so they can see how many jobs are at risk because of the trade deal. He called the deal a “Trojan Horse” to the Canadian dairy sector that would erode government protections on market access by foreign producers.
He said the money the Conservatives are promising to give to the auto sector was an admission that there will be job losses as a result of the trade deal.
“The best form of evidence is an admission,” Mulcair said. “So what Stephen Harper is doing there is that he’s admitting that he’s going to be killing off tens of thousands of jobs in the auto sector. He’s just admitted it by talking about that sort of compensation.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he wanted more information on the compensation packages designed to ease the transition for the auto sector to the deal’s new tariff structure.
He also said Harper hadn’t properly explained to Canadians how they would benefit from the trade deal.
“We have a prime minister that is happy to sign trade deals, but hasn’t done a very good job on talking to Canadians about the kinds of benefits that come from trade,” he said in Montreal.
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press