NAFTA Rhetoric? 'It Didn't Happen'

ABC News' Jennifer Parker Reports: A senior Canadian Embassy official in Washington, D.C. disputes a report by the CTV Canadian television network that an Obama campaign staffer telephoned Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador to the United States, to reassure him that campaign rhetoric against NAFTA should not be taken seriously.

"It didn't happen," said Roy Norton, who heads up the congressional, public and intergovernmental affairs portfolio for the Canadian embassy.

Norton said none of the three campaigns for Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton, or Sen. John McCain have contacted the embassy.

"Neither before the Ohio debate nor since has any of the U.S. presidential campaigns called Ambassador Wilson or the Canadian embassy to raise NAFTA," he said.

CTV reported last night that two unnamed Canadian sources said a "senior member" of Obama's campaign team called Wilson in the last month to warn him that Obama would be ratcheting up rhetoric against the North American Free Trade Agreement, but that he should "not be worried about what Obama says about NAFTA" and "Its just campaign rhetoric...Its not serious."

During a debate in Ohio this week, where NAFTA is blamed for job losses, both Obama and Clinton said that as president, they would opt out of the trade deal unless it could be renegotiated.

When asked about the CTV report, Obama's said today, "It wasn't true."

Today Bill Burton of the Obama campaign told ABC News no senior Obama campaign representative called the Canadian embassy. "The news reports on Obama's position on NAFTA are inaccurate and in no way represent Senator Obama’s consistent position on trade," Burton said separately in an email.

"When Senator Obama says that he will forcefully act to make NAFTA a better deal for American workers, he means it. Both Canada and Mexico should know that, as president, Barack Obama will do what it takes to create and protect American jobs and strengthen the American economy -- that includes amending NAFTA to include labor and environmental standards. We are currently reaching out to the Canadian embassy to correct this inaccuracy."

This afternoon the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C., sent out a press release to deny the CTV report.

"The Canadian Embassy confirms that at no time has any member of a Presidential campaign called the Canadian Ambassador or any official at the Embassy to discuss NAFTA," the statement read. "Last night the Canadian television network CTV, falsely reported that such calls had been made. That story is untrue. Neither before nor since the Ohio debate has any presidential campaign called Ambassador Wilson or the Embassy to raise NAFTA."

The Canadian embassy is proactively reaching out to the campaigns "all the time," Norton said, to try to meet with aides who might form the foreign and economic policy teams of any future administration.

"We talk about the whole range of Canada-U.S. issues which we think it's critically important that the presidential candidates be aware of including the number of jobs that depend in the United States on Canada-U.S. trade."

The Canadian Embassy says there are more than seven million jobs in the U.S. that depend on trade with Canada.

"We discuss our view that NAFTA has been very good for all three participating countries and has made the continent more competitive in the face of China, India, Brazil," Norton said.

The CTV report suggested the Clinton campaign may have given reassurances to the Canadian government in Ottawa, but the Clinton campaign is flatly denying the claim.

"If anyone did it we don’t know who and they weren’t authorized," Clinton campaign spokesperson Jay Carson told ABC News.

NAFTA has become a hot-button issue in the delegate-rich state of Ohio, which votes next Tuesday. Both Clinton and Obama have tried to woo voters in the economically challenged state by railing against NAFTA, which was pushed through during former President Bill Clinton's administration.

McCain, however, said today that he plans to highlight his support for the trade deal to draw contrasts between him and his Democratic opponent.

"NAFTA has created jobs," McCain said today while campaigning in Texas, arguing that the trade deal has been good for the American, Canadian, and Mexican economies.

"Anyone who studies history understands that every time this country or other nations in the world have practiced protectionism, they’ve paid a very, very heavy price for it," McCain said, adding that "some would argue that one of the major contributors to World War II was the Smoot-Hawley tariffs acts."

ABC News' David Chalian, Kate Snow, David Wright, Jake Tapper and Bret Hovell contributed to this report.

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