The Hunt For The NAFTA Dancer took an unexpected turn today as journalists pointed to Ian Brodie as one of the sources that launched the story. Ian Brodie, the chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, started the controversy with an off-hand comment to reporters on background not to read too much into the demagoguery of Democrats on the trade agreement. He told them that the Clinton campaign had contacted the Canadians to reassure them of their commitment to the pact:
The leak of a confidential diplomatic discussion that rocked the U.S. presidential campaign began with an offhand remark to journalists from the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Ian Brodie. …
Mr. Brodie, during the media lockup for the Feb. 26 budget, stopped to chat with several journalists, and was surrounded by a group from CTV.
The conversation turned to the pledges to renegotiate the North American free-trade agreement made by the two Democratic contenders, Mr. Obama and New York Senator Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Brodie, apparently seeking to play down the potential impact on Canada, told the reporters the threat was not serious, and that someone from Ms. Clinton’s campaign had even contacted Canadian diplomats to tell them not to worry because the NAFTA threats were mostly political posturing.
In fact, CTV’s original reporting included assertions that both the Clinton and Obama campaigns had contacted Canadian diplomats with essentially the same message– that they were slinging rhetoric at NAFTA to win votes, not to actually change the policy. CTV downplayed the Clinton connection in its report, apparently unable to find confirmation outside of the Brodie comment. The Clinton connection to the story has mostly been lost ever since.
However, CTV reported the Obama connection in much stronger terms, and later we found out why. They obtained separate confirmation from the Chicago consulate that one of Obama’s campaign figures, economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, had met with Georges Rioux to discuss NAFTA and other issues. When the Obama campaign and Barack Obama himself gave a complete denial, the AP got the notes created by the consulate of the 40-minute discussion between Goolsbee and Rioux, complete with the NAFTA commentary.
Despite the argument from Obama supporters, this new development doesn’t change those facts. Obama’s adviser met with Rioux and downplayed the Obama campaign rhetoric to the Canadians. The question is whether Brodie mistakenly named the Clinton campaign, or whether Hillary’s team essentially performed the same hypocritical outreach as Goolsbee conducted on behalf of Obama.
It also extends the embarrassment for the Harper government, although it won’t last long. NAFTA has great importance to the Canadian economy, and the Harper government needs to ensure its long-term viability. The problems got created by the Democrats who have recklessly promised to abrogate the treaty — which a Democrat negotiated and signed.
UPDATE: I wrote Peter Brodie rather than Ian Brodie in the first paragraph. My apologies for the error.