It started with a Democratic presidential debate on MSNBC in Cleveland, Ohio, where the two Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, spoke about NAFTA, which is short for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
American politics has caused a firestorm in Canada despite efforts from Canadian officials to separate themselves from the political minefield of America's battle in a tense election year.
NAFTA was an expansion of the earlier Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement of 1988. NAFTA is a treaty under international law, though under United States law, it is classed as a congressional-executive agreement rather than a treaty.
NAFTA eliminated the majority of tariffs on products traded among the United States, Canada and Mexico, and gradually phased out other tariffs over a 15-year period.
Ohio has suffered from the elimination of the majority of their manufacturing jobs and it is a "hot button" topic in American politics.
During the Democratic Presidential debate, the two candidates made comments about NAFTA meant to reassure the people of Ohio.
NAFTA-Gate: The firestorm begins in America
"I will make sure we renegotiate. I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced."
The above quote came from Barack Obama during that debate and by the next day, CTV, a Canadian media outlet was reporting that a "senior member" of Obama's campaign team has spoken with the Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. to reassure him that Obama's anti-NAFTA "political positioning" was not to be taken seriously.
This led to denials from Barack Obama and Canadian officials, which CTV then followed up with another report, naming names and time lines, proving that one of Obama's campaign team did, in fact, communicate with Canadian officials.
Obama's exact words, which led to the follow up CVT report were, "Nobody reached out to the Canadians to try to assure them of anything."
Then a memo surfaced from that meeting which further confirmed the original CTV story.
Furthermore after the firestorm had begun, it was also reported that a Clinton aide had told officials that her position on the North American Free Trade Agreement can be taken with a "grain of salt.''
NAFTA-Gate Hits Canada hardAfter the initial CTV story broke about Obama's campaign's senior economic policy adviser, Austan Goolsbee, communicating to Canadian officials, said Obama's words were not be taken seriously because it was "political positioning", Canadian officials tried to distance themselves from America's politics, immediately.
A statement was issued from the Canadian Embassy:
Washington, D.C., March 3, 2008 — The Canadian Embassy and our Consulates General regularly contact those involved in all of the Presidential campaigns and, periodically, report on these contacts to interested officials. In the recent report produced by the Consulate General in Chicago, there was no intention to convey, in any way, that Senator Obama and his campaign team were taking a different position in public from views expressed in private, including about NAFTA. We deeply regret any inference that may have been drawn to that effect.
The people of the United States are in the process of choosing a new President and are fortunate to have strong and impressive candidates from both political parties. Canada will not interfere in this electoral process. We look forward, however, to working with the choice of the American people in further building an unparalleled relationship with a close friend and partner.
Canadian officials are now embroiled in more than one investigation into what they are calling the NAFTA "leaks", as seen in multiple reports.
At first the Canadian government was investigating the leak of the Obama memo, as it is being called, and they were focusing on their foreign affairs department, but recent reports say that the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is expanding that probe into a full internal security investigation.
In the House of Commons, the Opposition is also calling for the Prime Minister to fire his chief of staff, Ian Brodie, after media reports revealed he described a campaign aide to Hillary Clinton as saying that her public position on NAFTA could also be taken with "a grain of salt".
The Canadian Press cited an anonymous source which claimed that Brodie made that statement on Feb. 26, 2008, and Clinton campaign spokesman, Phil Singer, says the Clinton campaign "did not sanction nor would we ever sanction anyone to say such a thing," and goes on to add that the "Canadian government was free to reveal the name of anyone they think they've heard from.''
The Liberal Party lawmaker responsible for international trade, Navdeep Singh Bains, wants Brodie relieved of his duties until a full investigation is completed into the leak of the Obama memo as well as the claims that the Clinton campaign also communicated with Canadian officials to have them disregard her words on NAFTA.
Bain's goes to say, "Ideally we want him to resign."
The leader of the NDP party, Jack Layton, is also calling for Brodie's resignation. When Prime Minister Harper was asked if the allegations against Brodie would be part of the investigation, he replied "We will investigate this entire matter."
Layton also said: "My question to the Prime Minister is very simple. Will he now apologize to this House, the American people and Senator Obama, and will he fire his chief of staff?"
The U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, told CBC radio, in an interview that the leaked Obama memo was an act of "interference" into American politics, although he doesn't believe it was intentional.
I do think the term 'interference' is a little strong. It implies some intentional act. And I've got no way of knowing whether it was unintentional or intentional, or anything of that nature. But my statement of interference was not meant to mean intentional interference by the Canadian government, and unfortunately that's the way it got played.Intentional or not, Mark Penn, the Clinton campaign's chief strategist admits that the NAFTA-gate leak had a "significant impact" on the key race in Ohio where Hillary Clinton won by a large margin.
Canadian opposition parties are accusing Harper's Conservatives of leaking the information to help the Republican Party in the U.S. presidential elections.
At this point, those opposition parties want a federal police investigation of the whole case.
Two-Minute Penalty For InterferenceI am an American and writing about internal conflict this "NAFTA-Gate" situation has caused in Canada, I am left with the old question: "What came first, the chicken or the egg"?
Did Canada interfere in American politics (even unintentionally) by leaking the original Obama memo, or did the Obama and Clinton campaigns interfere with Canadian politics by saying one thing on national television during their debate and something entirely different to Canadian officials?
Who interfered in the realm of another country's politics first?