In the pre-dawn darkness of Ottawa, page after page of pro-trade documentation dropped onto the desks of bleary-eyed journalists, a blitz of propaganda in both official languages that had kept government printers churning all night.
Numbers seemingly rained from the sky: 98 per cent of tariffs will be eliminated in Canada-European trade; bilateral trade will jump 23 per cent; this country had gained preferential access to a market of 500 million consumers in 28 countries with $17 trillion in annual economic activity.
Should doubts still have been harboured anywhere, the heavy artillery was then loaded for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso, who alternately traded tributes about the historic nature of such an excellent mutually beneficial deal.
“This is not just a good deal, it is an excellent deal,” Harper said.
These two men might be quite right.
But no one can say that definitively right now, certainly not those of us led by the nose through the morning paper avalanche, the government statements in the House of Commons or the tributes from the so-called “stakeholders” who sang the praises of market access for shrimp to pigs.
This was an agreement in principle, but there was no fine print.
This deal does have the potential to be transformative for this country and to be a signature achievement for Harper.
But one had to wonder about the other “stakeholders,” the unsuspecting Canadian voters, who had this massive deal dumped in their laps even as the Conservatives claimed these negotiations were the most “transparent and inclusive in Canada’s history.”
You might get an argument on that one.
Although a 2008 study was published assessing potential benefits of such a deal and a little-publicized notice for public comment was published, Conservatives were largely silent in recent years, except to assure us something was close.
But this much we know: if Canadian business rises to the challenge, the opportunities are immense.
Tariffs as high as 25 per cent will be all but removed for fish and seafood exports from the Atlantic provinces. Tariffs as steep as 22 per cent on aerospace and rail products and heavy machinery will be all but eliminated for Ontario and Quebec exports.
Some 80,000 tonnes of pork and 50,000 tonnes of beef will be allowed in to Europe duty-free each year, a move popular in Alberta.
Ontario-made cars will no longer face a 10 per cent European tariff. Canadian exports could rise 12-fold, the government says.
Your new Mercedes should be cheaper, along with your French perfumes and Italian-made suits.
Your high-end French wines should be more plentiful and affordable,.
If you are an architect, you will soon be able to practise your profession in Europe. Similar labour mobility agreements can be negotiated by professional organizations, meaning ultimately a doctor in Montreal would be a doctor in Paris.
But the EU won two more years of patent protection for big pharma, delaying the entry of cheaper generics in Canada, bumping up prices, but not by much, we’re assured. Even then, the government says the effects of that will not be felt for eight years, but provinces will have to be compensated.
Harper says he saved the supply management system, but an additional 17,700 tonnes of European cheese — 4.2 per cent of our domestic market — is headed here and Canadian dairy farmers will have to be compensated. The Europeans won concessions on top goal, winning the right for their giant companies to bid on local infrastructure projects here.
Canadian officials will move the ratification process through the provinces and the House of Commons at the same pace as the EU ratification process, meaning the final Champagne — its name protected under this deal — will be uncorked in about two years.
According to Harper, opponents of this deal will lose and will be making a huge political mistake.
Debate will start, but the muted initial response from his opponents indicates that in his quick spin into political punditry, the prime minister is probably quite right.
Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.