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UPDATE: Trade, economic concerns come to fore as Ontario MP ditches Liberals for Tories

Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer walks with Leona Alleslev, who crossed the floor from the Liberal party to Conservative party before Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday, September 17, 2018.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
September 17, 2018 - 2:02 PM

OTTAWA - The Trudeau Liberals' handling of trade issues came into sharp focus Monday when an Ontario MP suddenly defected, adding her voice to a growing chorus of criticism from the opposition benches over government management of the key economic file.

Leona Alleslev made the stunning announcement that she could no longer sit as a Liberal as MPs returned to Ottawa from their summer break, crossing the floor of the House of Commons to roaring applause from the Opposition Conservatives.

On her way out of the Liberal fold, she criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government's efforts on trade, economic and global security issues.

Alleslev said the world has changed since she was first elected in 2015, and she felt her questions about the Liberal government's performance on the crucial files were "met with silence."

But she felt she had to leave the Liberals in order to openly criticize the party's direction.

Alleslev dismissed questions about political opportunism, given her slim election victory three years ago, saying her decision was about being able to look at herself in the mirror.

"We're facing some very serious challenges and this is how I can do the job that my constituents sent me here to do," she said.

"This is something I've been considering for a while."

Scheer ushered Alleslev into the Conservative caucus, making his new MP the critic for global security, and he issued an open invitation to any other disenfranchised Liberal supporters to rethink their allegiances ahead of the October 2019 ballot.

"Let me say this to Canadians: If, like Leona, you supported Justin Trudeau and the Liberals in the last election and you are frustrated or even angry with the ineffective leadership, know this — you are both welcome and needed in the Conservative Party of Canada," Scheer said.

Trudeau said little about Alleslev's move.

"I wish her well in her decision," Trudeau said. "I'm looking forward to getting back in the House to talk about what we are going to be doing for Canadians, what we've been working hard on all summer and over the past few years."

The opposition parties took shots early and often Monday at how the Liberals have managed the economy and the ongoing negotiations of a renewed North American Free Trade Agreement — the outcome of which will affect countless jobs on both sides of the border.

Conservative House leader Candice Bergen said her party wouldn't lecture the U.S. on gender rights and the environment in the midst of trade talks— a jab at the Liberal government's approach on NAFTA.

Bergen said Trudeau has managed to "tick off" a lot of key people during the trade negotiations, which started 13 months ago at the behest of U.S. President Donald Trump, who is under a congressional and political deadline.

Canada and the U.S. need to present an agreed-upon text to the U.S. Congress by Oct. 1 in order to join the deal the Trump administration has signed with Mexico. Otherwise, Trump is threatening to move ahead on a agreement that excludes Canada, which Congress could thwart weeks ahead of November mid-term elections that will test his Republican party.

The primary sticking points in negotiations include maintaining an independent dispute-resolution mechanism and protection for Canadian dairy farmers.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh urged the Liberals not to cede some of Canada's supply management system for dairy farmers in NAFTA talks, and ensure a renewed deal makes life better for Canadian workers. He suggested neither will be an easy task in negotiations with the mercurial Trump.

An early order of business for the Liberals this fall is passing legislation to enact a trade deal with Pacific Rim countries — the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership — designed to open up new markets for exports beyond the U.S.

MPs discussed the bill as Alleslev rose in her chair to announce her political change of heart.

She has represented the new Toronto-area riding of Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill since narrowly defeating her Conservative challenger by 1,093 votes in 2015.

Prior to politics, Alleslev served for several years in the Canadian military before joining IBM and Bombardier Aerospace. As an MP, she has served on the immigration and defence committees and as chair of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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