Canada’s unity and strength shone during trade negotiations

As I head to my hometown of Windsor, Ont., to spend the holiday weekend with family, it occurs to me just how much we have to be thankful for.

The city joins communities across the country in letting out a collective sigh of relief that the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) negotiations are behind us.

There may have been those who viewed the renegotiation of our trilateral trade agreement impassively, but for many the experience was an absolute terror. Some lived in fear that one misstep could destabilize entire regional economies and, in turn, livelihoods.

In announcing the details of the agreement in principle this past Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called out Windsor by name — one of just two municipalities to be specifically mentioned at the press conference.

Later in the week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made time for a two-day visit to the city celebrating the construction kickoff of the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Trade negotiations with the Donald Trump administration have been difficult and unpredictable. The president wagered the auto industry as if our intertwined economies would not both take the hit if we didn’t all get this right.

From the moment Trump initiated trade renegotiations, Windsor has held its breath — unwillingly strapped into a nauseating roller-coaster directed by the erratic whims of the president himself. And an emotional roller-coaster it was for the motor city.

At 23-years-old, NAFTA was in need of modernization. Our prime minister aimed high and held true to his commitment that he would only sign an agreement that was good for Canadians.

The result is a quite progressive trade agreement. It includes an environment chapter and a labour chapter defending the rights of workers with consideration to gender-based discrimination. And while it didn’t garner its own chapter as advocates initially hoped, language on Indigenous rights was included.

Not every industry came out unscathed. Dialogues will continue on the appropriate compensation for impacted supply managed sectors, and steel tariffs remain in force for the foreseeable future.

That said, the negotiation of this agreement was a rare endeavour in multi-partisan Canadian collaboration.

Academics, political representatives from all levels of government, labour leaders, and industry leaders alike respectfully contributed to this largely successful outcome.

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney actively supported the efforts, helping to ensure our neighbours to the south saw a united Canadian front.

Opposition members collaborated for the best outcomes on labour inclusion. Essex MP Tracey Ramsey of the NDP pushed like only a former auto line worker could. She advocated fiercely throughout negotiations and was appropriately thanked by Freeland for her contributions and partnership on trade during question period last week.

For a moment in time, our country, in all of her strength, came together shoulder to shoulder with purpose.

But as we move forward, we can’t forget how much we owe to Freeland for this hard-fought agreement. It was remarkable to see her lead the negotiations from the Canadian front.

She stayed calm, communicative and straightforward to Canadians throughout the process. She was joined by a thoughtful and persistent group of journalists who uncovered and shared the story with us along the way.

And still, in September, at the height of negotiations, I watched her greeted by a thunderous standing ovation at Toronto’s Koerner Hall for the Women in the World Summit. The room full of powerful Canadian women from all walks of life roared in appreciation for her leadership.

No one would have faulted her for breaking her commitment to speak, considering the pace of negotiations at the time. But she showed up, and brilliantly engaged in an honest dialogue about populism and its role in the shaping of our society today.

Trudeau vowed as we entered negotiations that, “We would remain united. And ultimately, we’d emerge stronger.” Stronger we have emerged. Freeland carried out this trade mission admirably. She led with refreshing authenticity while remaining true to Canadian values.

Trudeau called USMCA the largest task carried out by a cabinet minister in a generation. I would agree. And I have a feeling she’s just getting started.

Tiffany Gooch is a Toronto-based Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight. She is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @goocht

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, October 7, 2018)