Canadians can expect more trade with at least three Commonwealth countries and easier movement within those same three countries if the Conservative Party of Canada wins the next federal election, according to Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Scott Aitchison. Over the past several months, the Conservative Party has been working with Parliamentarians in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand to increase cooperation in foreign affairs, national security and trade.
To that end, five working groups have been created to move these discussions forward. Aitchison has been named chair of two of the working groups. Aitchison will be the lead MP on the working group for more trade between the four Commonwealth nations and will also chair the working group that allows people moving more freely among the four countries. On the freer movement issue, Aitchison likens it to an existing model between Australia and New Zealand called the Trans-Tasman Travel Agreement “where residents in either country can visit or work in the other's country without a special visa. “Our goal is to create something similar to this between all four nations.” Aitchison said. Aitchison said relaxing travel rules would be “not likely” to increase the risk of seeing terrorists easily gaining entry to a member country. “It's a valid question,” Aitchison said. “However the Trans-Tasman Travel Agreement states if you have a criminal record, you are not eligible to enjoy the same freedoms. It's a privilege reserved for people who are not criminals. The rules are there to ensure it's the freer movement of law-abiding citizens.” Collectively, the efforts of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom working together has the acronym CANZUK. On the issue of trade, Aitchison says this working group will help create the opportunity to expand freer and fairer trade between CANZUK nations. For Canada, one area where immediate trade growth could occur is with New Zealand, where currently very little trading takes place between the two countries. Aitchison says the work of the working groups hasn't started in earnest yet so he hasn't had a chance to consider where specific trade opportunities may lie. But Aitchison says an obvious area is seeing freer trade involving professional services, which may include financial services. Aitchison says increasing trade would lead to more job creation, which is why Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole is behind the formation of the working groups. The other three working groups will be chaired by British Columbia MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay. They are defence, pooling procurement and coordinating foreign policies. Aitchison says with COVID still a factor, meetings with all Parliamentarians involving the five working groups will be held virtually. “But ultimately there will be travel as more people get vaccinated and more things open up,” Aitchison said. In terms of strategic reasons for the Conservative Party of Canada, Aitchison said the goal is to have a final report on the findings of each working group to O'Toole before the end of the year. “Our report will identify what we feel are key initial steps and what the process might look like going forward,” Aitchison said. Aitchison commends O'Toole's foresight to start the work now to strengthen cooperation between the four Commonwealth nations and where they can all work together. “This will be an action plan on the initial first steps we can take upon forming the government,” Aitchison said. “It's not something you do overnight. So it's wise of Erin to lay the groundwork and prepare now so when we form the government, we're ready on Day 1 to start the process.” Aitchison says an early federal election would suspend the Conservative Party's work on creating the five working groups' final report but he says win or lose, the Tories will resume the work following the election. “This will still be a priority for Erin O'Toole regardless of what happens in the next election,” he said. Meanwhile, there may be a benefit to CANZUK creating the working groups that could help the developing nations in the Commonwealth, although this won't happen in the short term. The Commonwealth is made up of dozens of countries, some of which are very poor. Aitchison says CANZUK is made up of the four richest countries in the Commonwealth. He is optimistic and believes at some point in the future the members of CANZUK can “refocus our foreign development assistance programs and refocus our energies in the Commonwealth” to help further develop the economies of the developing nations.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget