By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Durham MP Erin O’Toole is waisting no time after being named the Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Announced by Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party, on Aug. 30, O’Toole joins the Shadow Cabinet and will now work on all foreign affairs issues, and right now, the re-negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are front of mind.
The first round of talks between Canada, the United States and Mexico wrapped up last month with the second round of talks scheduled for the end of September.
“I thank Andrew (Scheer) for the opportunity to take on an important role at a critical time,” O’Toole says. “He knows how important that is for me as the kid of a GM retiree in an auto producing part of Ontario, how critical NAFTA and U.S. free trade is for us.”
Elected in 2012, O’Toole has previously worked as the Minister of Veteran Affairs and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade. Combined with his experience as an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces and work in corporate law, he says it makes him a suitable candidate to take on the role.
He says that moving forward, Canada needs to keep their priorities straight when it comes to the NAFTA.
“We need to make sure that we have access to the U.S. market, the parts and part quantities for Canada and that sort of thing remain the fair and even-handed approach that we’ve had going way back to the Auto Pact,” he says. “At the end of the day this is a business negotiation with a very sophisticated country with an administration that is very, very aggressive in terms of getting an outcome for them.”
For that reason, despite noting he has a lot of respect for Chrystia Freeland, the Minister of Foreign Affaris, the government is muddling the process by bringing in other issues that may not be top of mind.
“She was putting forward priorities like the environment and Indigenous issues and things like that. Those are important issues, but they’re certainly secondary to jobs and market access, which is really what this trade agreement is about,” O’Toole says. “Anything that clouds that, I think is a bit naive and so where I can work productively, I will, but where I think they’re not focusing on the fundamentals, I’ll hold their feet to the fire rather strongly.”