VANCOUVER — A strong economy is allowing Canadian officials to push for a better deal in negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Tuesday.
Talks on the deal are “critically important” but Canada will remain firm in getting the best possible agreement, he told the Business Council of British Columbia.
“Are there challenges? Yes. Do we need to be prepared to deal with them? Yes. We think that having our economy in the best possible position is the place from which we can do that, make decisions in a measured way, considering all the facts at hand,” he said.
The government’s latest budget included measures to expand trade around the world, particularly in Asia, and the financial plan is fiscally responsible, which means Canada can hold out for a better deal on NAFTA, Morneau added.
“We are going to continue to put forth why we don’t agree with some ideas that were put forth on the table by the United States. We’ve been pretty firm in that approach. We think that Canadians support us, that getting to a better deal is the way we should address this,” he said.
Challenges to the economy come from within Canada, too, Morneau said, including the ongoing battle over the future of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion between the Edmonton area and Metro Vancouver.
“I’ll acknowledge that the current challenged between B.C. and Alberta is one of those frustrating things that happen in a democracy, but we need to deal with it,” he said.
The government is overhauling the approval process for similar projects, Morneau said, adding the key to finding a solution is giving potential interveners an opportunity to voice their views as early as possible and implementing timelines that will give businesses certainty.
“What we can say is that the previous process wasn’t working,” Morneau said.
The finance minister also lauded investments his government made in science, research and gender equality in last week’s budget, but acknowledged the promises come with large price tags.
The financial plan forecast continued deficits, breaking a campaign promise the Liberals made in 2015 to return to balanced budgets by the end of the party’s mandate.
Morneau said the investments have put the country in a better fiscal position than it was on election day, and he won’t get “fussed on the exact numbers,” but the position will continue to improve.
“You start adding it up and you say these are investments in the future of Canada. And we think they’re prudent and appropriate. We also know that we can do them from a position of strength while continuing to be fiscally responsible,” he said.
(Companies in this story: TSX:KML)
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press