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No, Financial Post, there is no secret anti-trade pact between 'Big Labour' and Donald Trump

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Image: National Post

If you happened to read Terence Corcoran yesterday, either because your eyes were bleeding and you needed to pick up the closest rag you could find, or because you were trapped on a flight beside a business fellow who manspreaded his way into your personal space, you would have read a fascinating work of fiction.

In a screed that sounds something like "Won't somebody please think of the children?" (except replace children with "the capitalist class"), Corcoran takes one for the team and does his best to make a Union Boss look like Donald Trump.

Pull the string and you get: "With union membership in steady decline, Big Labour seems to see opportunity for growth in the emerging business of bashing international trade deals."

Pull the string and you get: "But the constant and extreme bashing of free trade through sensational overstatement, as practiced by Trump and Unifor, is a risky business Canadians should reject."

Pull the string and you get: "Unifor and Trump are united against NAFTA."

How did Corcoran stumble upon such a momentous scoop? When did the secret meeting between Donald Trump and Jerry Dias take place? Or, more salaciously, are the workers in the Trump Tower in which they met unionized?

Unifor and Trump aren’t "united" on anything. There was no statement of unity. No meeting of consensus. No Occupy-inspired love-in to unite any of their policies.

Unifor and Donald Trump happen to have a similar position on NAFTA. For Unifor, it's because NAFTA and other free trade agreements have steadily eroded manufacturing in Canada. Part of the "steady decline" of "Big Labour" has been tied to these disappearing jobs. For Trump, his reasons are much less clear and much more rooted in the dangerous game of nationalist xenophobia that has marked his campaign.

It's similar to how women who believe that abortion is a right happen to share their opinions with libertarians who believe that everything is everybody's right. Coincidence; not global conspiracy.

Corcoran is trying to use the broad consensus that has emerged about Donald Trump to marginalize Unifor's position on the TPP and CETA. He's doing this because (pull the string) he knows who he writes for, and he knows that free trade deals like CETA and the TPP are unpopular and beatable.

He even claims that the left-wing Council of Canadians is among Canada's own "Trump constituency."

It's easy to lump Unifor, American economist Joseph Stiglitz and Donald Trump into a pile to promote an outlandish theory that your base will love. Thoughtful criticisms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are hard. Really, the big surprise is that Corcoran doesn't try to bring Vladimir Putin into the mix.

He attempts to temper critics like me with subordinate clauses like: "The Trans-Pacific Partnership may well be a flawed agreement..."

Yes, the TPP may well be a flawed agreement. But dealing with the details of how flawed, flawed in what way and so on, would require words that could be better used to finish that sentence with: "but using its flaws to foster mass opposition to international trade agreements risks adding to an expanding populist movement that sees trade as a job-killing process that only benefits the rich and corporations."

What Corcoran intentionally omits (I assume it was intentional, because it's a basic element of the politics of free trade) is that opposition to free trade isn't traditionally associated with right-wing policies. Free trade protests were the bread and butter of 1990s social movements. Up until just after the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, the organized left was actively engaged in struggle against free trade and a global race-to-the-bottom in wages and working conditions.

Had the attacks on the World Trade Centre never happened, perhaps the left would have intensified its fight against these agreements. We'll never know.

Canadians have never expressed overwhelming support for NAFTA. The Liberals had to promise to take a new approach with the trade deal to get elected in 1993.

And it makes sense: NAFTA deeply integrated North American economies, limited the scope and power that workers had to fight for better working conditions and wages, and allowed for corporations to sue governments if they disagreed with the decisions they made.

NAFTA happens to be the perfect boogeyman for a billionaire whose image is fighting for the little guy in post-industrial America against a corrupt establishment. It's kind of how Trump is the perfect boogeyman for a free trade-promoting Financial Post columnist.

CETA nearly didn't happen and, with ratification votes ahead if it, theoretically could still be defeated. But the TPP is even more beatable: convincing Canadians that it's best to allow New Zealand or American milk into our supermarkets while watching our own local milk industry die a slow death is going to be a difficult sell.

So what do you do when you need to make a scurrilous argument that manages to hit two birds you dislike with one stone?

You pull the string and publish whatever rushes out of your free-trade-loving dummy's mouth.

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Image: National Post

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