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Trudeau will benefit on NAFTA regardless of outcome

The more things change, the more they stay the same. In spite of the acute attention paid to the ongoing negotiations week after week, the NAFTA narrative remains fundamentally the same: meetings take place, another “all-nighter” makes headlines, and so-called deadlines evaporate into thin air.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s talking points haven’t changed much either. We possibly will make the end of week deadline. We are in intensive negotiations. We are not negotiating in public. No NAFTA deal is better than a bad NAFTA deal.

Everyone knows the issues on the table: concessions on dairy, cultural exemptions, softwood lumber and, most critically, the dispute resolution mechanism.

It’s not possible to overstate the importance of NAFTA to our country’s future economic prosperity. It’s a vital agreement that has fuelled growth, created jobs and generated opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

The American market being open to Canadian firms has benefited us to a degree that is hard to grasp — and for it to close would be deeply damaging. For all those reasons, the long-term political cost of failing to reach a deal would be devastating for any political party.

But with an election less than 400 days away, the short-term political landscape is quite another matter.

The Liberals stand in an envious position: no matter the result of the negotiations, they stand to benefit with voters.

If Canada signs a deal before the 2019 election, Trudeau will be able to campaign across the country celebrating the virtues of his agreement — secured economic prosperity through a wider selection of goods, increased trade, new jobs and the freer movement of professionals and investors across the border.

No matter what the specifics of a negotiated trade pact are, the prime minister can — and will — proudly boast about his accomplishment in successfully negotiating a “Canada-friendly” deal against the erratic, America-first, deal master himself. It will be a feather in his government’s cap — one that has few tangible results to point to three years into its term.

Without a deal, the narrative changes, but it can still easily be spun to the benefit of the Trudeau and the Liberal party.

A failure to get a NAFTA deal opens the door for a federal election fought on how to contend with the current American administration. President Donald Trump’s fans in Canada are few and far between. The president is widely disliked, and when the Liberals have been positioned as counter to the president, their poll numbers have increased.

Should there be no deal, suddenly, the next federal election will become a referendum on Trudeau’s handling of Trump, an issue that Trudeau can own. It will be challenging for Scheer and the Conservatives to campaign against the Liberals when they position themselves as standing up to a bully that many Canadians scorn.

It is important to recall that Trump is using the trade talks as an election tool, too.

An election campaign focused on NAFTA and the unpredictable U.S. president will shield Trudeau and his party from domestic questions that don’t have easy answers — from pipelines to Indigenous issues to spiralling deficits.

Practically, this means it is unlikely that Canada will get a bad deal on NAFTA.

There is little incentive for this government to sign a bad deal — one that simply exposes the government heading into the next election.

Why sign a deal that angers the dairy industry in Quebec? The Liberals know they are vulnerable to Andrew Scheer in rural Quebec.

Why sign a deal that dismantles the dispute mechanism that has benefited Canadian interest time after time?

Why sign a deal that weakens Canada’s cultural industries at a time when our culture is under threat?

The prime minister is in a politically enviable position — regardless of whether he gets a deal or not. Ironically, that means that he is better positioned in negotiations with the United States, too.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

Banking on Blockchain Update: September 28, 2018

Welcome to Navigator’s weekly update “Banking on Blockchain”. Each week, we put together a curated list of the latest news highlights and announcements for blockchain in Canada and around the world.

Click here to have an expanded edition of “Banking on Blockchain” emailed to you every week

Canada in Focus

Major audit and consulting firm Deloitte will help the Institutes RiskBlock™ Alliance blockchain consortium expand into Canada. The US based consortium, which represents 31 risk management and insurance companies, focuses on the application of blockchain technology in the insurance industry. The move is part of the alliance’s international expansion strategy, beginning with collaboration with Canadian-based property-casualty and life insurers.

Canadian-based cryptocurrency trading platform Coinsquare has  announced that it has secured an official banking relationship with one of the major Canadian banks. The company has not yet released the details of the relationship, though CEO Cole Diamond says, “this is a tremendous boost not only for Coinsquare but for the entire Canadian cryptocurrency industry.”

While not known for their high-tech industry sector, Medicine Hat, Alberta is facing the high energy demands poised by cryptocurrency mining in their region. As a result, environmentalists and residents have expressed concern about the unprecedented energy usage. The reliance on fossil fuels is a danger identified by environmentalists, though the Toronto-based mining company Hut 8, who are operating in the area, have indicated that renewable energy is not reliable enough to sustain their business.

Canada’s first ever Bitcoin mutual fund, First Block Capital Inc. has said that Canada is a better environment for emerging technologies than the United States. CEO Sean Clark discussed the underlying factors in detail with CCN, indicating that the regulatory bodies understand the benefits of the technology, and are open to innovation more generally. In comparison, Clark says the United States have been less open to embracing this technology.

On the World Stage

Computer manufacturer Dell EMC has announced plans to invest in emerging technology, including blockchain. The company said on Wednesday that it is looking at blockchain, artificial intelligence, and cloud compliance. The interest in blockchain comes from the company’s top clients beginning to adopt the technology. Dell EMC is looking to help these clients manage the new workloads on Dell servers.

Companies investing in blockchain technology is a trend that we are likely to see continue as the technology becomes more prevalent. This week, telecommunications giant AT&T announced the creation of a suite of blockchain solutions designed to work with technology from IBM and Microsoft. The technology will aim to bring additional transparency and accountability to the most complex supply chains.

It is not only businesses that are embracing the technology; an arbitration body in the Chinese city of Nanjing has launched an online ruling system which apparently has a built-in blockchain network for depositing and storing data in legal disputes. The product is still in its testing phase but once complete, will change the way data is stored. The Nanjing committee asserts that the online system will allow parties involved in contract disputes to simultaneously view digital evidence over a tamper-proof and distributed network. The integration of blockchain tech is two-fold; to facilitate the issuing of rulings within 30 days following a filing and in loweing the costs incurred during legal disputes.

Lastly, President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone, announced a new initiative to create a national blockchain-based credit bureau. This announcement was made at the U.N. General Assembly meeting on Thursday. The project is in partnership with technology non-profit Kiva, the U.N. Capital Development Fund, and the U.N. Development Programme. This “credit bureau of the future” is being poised to radically transform the country’s financial landscape.

Failure To Launch

Welcome to the first episode of the fourth season. This week, we speak to our insider Marieke Walsh from iPolitics on what it’s like to report at Queen’s Park. We’re also joined by Navigator’s Ryan Guptill and Colin MacDonald to discuss Jagmeet Singh’s troubles as federal NDP leader, Governor General Julie Payette one year in, and the exciting results of the New Brunswick provincial election.

Join us every Thursday as we continue to unpack what’s making headlines.