Quebec politicians head to the polls; denounce new trade deal with U.S.

Quebec's four main party leaders held their traditional Election Day polling booth photo-ops Monday morning — and each of them had something to say about the newly-forged eleventh-hour trade deal struck between Canada and the U.S.

Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée actually posted his reaction late Sunday night on Facebook, calling the deal a "disgrace", and suggesting the federal government had to choose between Quebec farmers and Ontario auto workers — and chose Ontario.

"A disgrace for Canada, a disgrace for Quebec," Lisée said shortly after casting his ballot in his home riding of Rosemont. "It is an expression of the systemic injustice Quebec is victim of within Canada.

"I spoke to producers this morning and, even in their worst nightmares, they did not think Canada could cave in this much, to abandon the Quebec milk, cheese, chicken and turkey sectors in order to favour the auto industry."

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard also expressed disappointment with the agreement, saying what counts for him is life in the province's outlying areas.

"We want a type of agriculture in Quebec that is human and family-oriented  — and not one that is industrial and in which we lose all capacity to make decisions," Couillard said, shortly after casting his ballot in the riding of Roberval.

The issue of supply management and protecting Quebec's farmers was a key one in the run-up to the election, and in the talks which produced the USMCA, which is U.S. president Donald Trump's name for the trade deal that will replace NAFTA — provided it's ratified by elected officials in the three countries involved.

Supply management key issue in talks

The agreement was reached late Sunday and gives U.S. farmers greater access to the Canadian dairy market. But it keeps the former North American Free Trade Agreement dispute-resolution process that the U.S. wanted to jettison. It offers Canada protection if Trump goes ahead with plans to impose tariffs on cars, trucks and auto parts imported into the United States.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau says the deal needed to be fair and level the playing field given that one trading partner is 10 times larger. He says Canada did not accept "any deal.''

He says the goal heading into negotiations was to improve the lives of Canadians by protecting jobs and creating new ones, and to help the middle class.

“There are still some uncertainties," Trudeau said, standing alongside his foreign minister Chrystia Freeland, who led Canada's negotiation efforts for the past year. "That being said, today’s announcement is a major stride forward. This is the path we must follow to usher in a new era of economic prosperity and stability.”

Meanwhile, in the White House's Rose Garden on Monday, Trump hailed the deal as a return of the United States to a “manufacturing powerhouse,” vowing to sign the agreement by late November.

But the president noted that the deal would need to be ratified by Congress, a step that could be complicated by the outcome of the fall congressional elections. When told he seemed confident of congressional approval, he said he was “not at all confident” but felt ratification would be granted if lawmakers took the correct action.

“Anything you submit to Congress is trouble no matter what,” Trump said, predicting that Democrats would say, “Trump likes it so we’re not going to approve it.”

With files from the Associated Press.