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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rebutting claims made by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper that the Liberal government is dragging out the NAFTA negotiations for political gains.
“I think I’ve been very clear for a long time now that the issue of trade with the United States and our relationship with the United States is far too important to play partisan politics with,” the Liberal Party leader said during a stop in Markham, Ont., Friday.
Trudeau was responding to a recording first obtained by CTV News of Harper at the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum earlier this month.
CBC News has also obtained the audio.
“The problem right now is we have two governments that do not want an agreement,” Harper says.
“The reality is the government of Canada believes today that it is doing very well, the fight with Trump is good for it politically, it is winning. And so if it can take that fight and continue it, and more importantly paint conservatives as linked to Donald Trump, this is great for them. And so right now that is the strategy they are on.”
Harper, who now works as a consultant, also accused the government of going after him on a partisan basis, pointing to the fracas around his trip to Washington on July 2.
“Lo and behold, before the meetings are confirmed, I wake up one day … and this is out in the news,” Harper said.
“How did it get out in the news? I’ll tell you how it got out into the news: the government.”
Harper called the government’s stance “foolish.”
He added that he could lend a hand to the government on NAFTA, “but they don’t want my help.”
Trudeau said he has spoken with Harper and other former prime ministers about taking an “all hands on deck” approach.
This is not Harper’s first time talking publicly about the Canada-U.S. relationship since leaving office. He has waded into the ongoing NAFTA talks, offering commentary on TV and at other conferences.
While he has criticized some of the Liberal government’s actions on the trade file, he has defended the merits of NAFTA.
“I can understand why President Trump, why the American people feel they need some better trade relationships,” Harper told Fox News last month. “[But] this is the wrong target.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she believed that appearance on Fox News was helpful.