The Canada-U.S. Trade Talks Saga

The Canada-U.S. Trade Talks Saga is a three-part series first printed in The Niagara Independent.

 

Part One

In Ottawa, there are two prevailing threads of thought on what has become the never-ending saga of the Canada-U.S. Trade Talks. One is rallying behind Prime Minister Trudeau and supporting the Liberal Government’s attempt to reason with an unpredictable U.S. President. The second is highly critical, suggesting that the Liberals are purposely sabotaging the negotiations for their own domestic political gains. The next three columns will review the political gamesmanship between Canada and the U.S. and assess what all the public posturing may mean for the outcome of the trade talks – and for the 2019 federal election.

CLICK:  https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-canada-u-s-trade-talks-saga-part-one/

 

Part Two

This is the second of a three column series on the Canada-U.S. trade talks. This column reflects on the criticism that the Liberals have purposely sabotaged the trade negotiations for their political gain in an election year.

Not all are supportive of the Trudeau Government’s trade negotiation tactics with the United States.

CLICK:  https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-canada-u-s-trade-talks-saga-part-two/

 

Part Three

This is the third of a three column series on the Canada-U.S. trade talks, reviewing our National Leaders’ political gamesmanship and assessing what it means for the outcome of the trade talks – and for the 2019 federal election.

CLICK:  https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-canada-u-s-trade-talks-saga-part-three/

 

Chris George, providing reliable PR counsel and effective advocacy. Need a go-to writer or experienced communicator? 613-983-0801 @ CG&A COMMUNICATIONS.

The Canada-U.S. Trade Talks Saga (Part Three)

The Niagara Independent, July 20, 2018 – This is the third of a three column series on the Canada-U.S. trade talks, reviewing our National Leaders’ political gamesmanship and assessing what it means for the outcome of the trade talks – and for the 2019 federal election.

To recap the last six weeks: on June 1st, the U.S. imposed hefty levies on Canadian steel and aluminum imports, in response to China, South Korea and Vietnam dumping these products into our country. On July 1stCanada retaliated by placing tariffs worth a total of $16.6 billion on U.S. goods from ketchup and candles to shaving products and insecticides.

In turn, the U.S. is suing Canada at the World Trade Organization stating that the retaliatory tariffs are “completely without justification.” President Donald Trump has also publicly stated he is considering putting a further 25-per-cent levy on all cars and trucks imported to the U.S.

This escalating game of tit-for-tat does not bode well for Canada and the U.S. coming together at the NAFTA negotiating table. Now, to complicate the matter further, there is the anti-trade perspectives of newly elected Mexican President Andres Obrador. As a result, the trade uncertainty has economists citing lowered business confidence and reduced investments in the North American markets.

Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO Perrin Beatty succinctly puts the trade conflict into perspective for Canucks in a tweet (@PerrinBeatty): “Trade wars are bad. They are very hard to win. They are very easy to lose. And usually, in a trade war, everybody loses.”

Jack Mintz, president’s fellow at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, believes Canada has adopted a losing trade strategy. He reasons, “Canada might be the world’s 10th-largest economy, we still only account for less than two per cent of world GDP. We have little influence on world prices for anything except the one or two commodities where we control major market share, such as potash or uranium.”

Mintz warns, “Small countries like Canada are best off pursuing unilateral free trade, not by retaliating. Just because another country might wish to mess up its economy with taxes and subsidies doesn’t mean we should mess up our own.”

Lawrence Solomonpolicy director for Toronto-based Probe International, agrees, “If Canada’s negotiators want to do what’s best for Canada, they should stop posturing before they do more damage to our industries.”

Financial Post columnist Diane Francis sums it up by using a hockey analogy: “Trudeau’s job is to protect Canadian interests. And like hockey without referees, the toughest guy may not always be right. But he’s never wrong. So cut the outrage and just cut a deal.”

Canadians have every reason to be anxious about the outcome of these talks with the country’s largest trading partner. U.S. goods and services trade with Canada totaled an estimated $673.9 billion last year. There are 1.8 million Canadian manufacturing jobs at risk. Currently, 95 per cent of our energy and 83 per cent of our auto trade is sold to the U.S. In total, about three-quarters of all Canadian goods and services are traded into the U.S.

So, it is in Canada’s best interests to reach an agreement with the U.S. ASAP. Yet, the two sides remain entrenched. The United States is demanding further deregulation and elimination of existing tariffs (like with Canada’s dairy supply management program). Canada is remaining firm with our rights to maintain limits on foreign ownership in banking and telecommunications –and our management system for Canadian dairy, egg and poultry producers. Then there is also Canada’s insistence on negotiating labour, aboriginal and gender issues.

With each passing month, it is becoming more certain that NAFTA will be “the” major issue in Canada’s upcoming federal election. There are many outstanding (and critical) questions that will be electioneering fodder for both the champions and critics of Canada’s trade efforts. How will the Canadian negotiating team break the current stalemate? How does PM Trudeau and the Liberal Government deal with the American President? How will the prolonged uncertainty of not signing an agreement impact the Canadian economy? Come the October 2019 vote, Canadians will then have the opportunity to pass judgement on the success/failure of this seemingly never-ending saga.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-canada-u-s-trade-talks-saga-part-three/

 

PM fine tunes his Cabinet with an “Election Shuffle”

The Niagara Independent, July 20, 2018 – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet this week, bringing five new ministers to the table and creating a new portfolio for border security, an issue that has become a political vulnerability for the government over the past months.

Political analysts view this shuffle as a political move in advance of the 2019 election. There are additional ministers from Ontario and Quebec, where the Liberals need to maintain and, if possible, grow their seat count. David Moscrop, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University explains “The shuffle gives Trudeau an opportunity to put his best players on the pitch before the campaign.”

There are five new faces, reflecting both regional and ethnic diversity. The PM ensured to maintain a gender balance, adding the appropriate number of women while not dropping any from cabinet. Ministers Joly and Bennett were both expected to be let go and, instead, Melanie Joly is given considerable lesser roles with no government department, and Carolyn Bennett had northern affairs responsibilities taken from her portfolio. So, the new cabinet has 35 members including the PM, with 17 women and 18 men.

The PM did not shuffle any of his top ministers. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale all remain ensconced on the Government’s front benches.

Here are the new ministers added to the cabinet:

  • Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief was appointed Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction;
  • Mary Ng, a former PMO staffer who was recently elected in a Markham-Thornhill byelection, becomes Minister for Small Business and Export Promotion;
  • Filomena Tassi, a Hamilton MP, becomes Minister for Seniors; and,
  • Pablo Rodriguez, a Montreal MP, becomes Minister of Heritage and Multiculturalism;
  • Jonathan Wilkinson, a Vancouver MP, becomes Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Ministers with new duties:

  • Dominic LeBlanc moves from Fisheries and Oceans to Intergovernmental Affairs, Northern Affairs and Internal Trade;
  • Jim Carr moves from Natural Resources to International Trade Diversification;
  • Amarjeet Sohi moves from Infrastructure to Natural Resources;
  • François-Philippe Champagne moves from International Trade to Infrastructure and Communities;
  • Treasury Board President Scott Brison also becomes Minister of Digital Government;
  • Mélanie Joly goes from Heritage to Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and la Francophonie;
  • Carla Qualtrough, remains Minister of Public Services and Procurement and gets the added portfolio of Accessibility; and,
  • Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett has “northern affairs” dropped from her title.

Canadian news agencies are focusing on three specific appointments: Dominic LeBlanc as the PM’s point man with the provinces; Jim Carr to rebrand the government’s trade initiatives beyond the U.S.; and, Bill Blair with the new responsibility for border security and reducing organized crime.

Of those three appointments, Bill Blair’s task of responding to the influx of asylum-seekers crossing into Canada from the U.S. is the most politically charged. Blair’s new portfolio overlaps directly with those of federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. In the government’s description of this new cabinet position it states the minister is to ensure Canada’s borders are “managed in a way that promotes legitimate travel and trade while keeping Canadians safe and treating everyone fairly and in accordance with our laws.”

PM Trudeau commented on the new position, “When Conservatives across the country are playing the fear card, we need strong, reassuring voices to counter that and to demonstrate that the safety and security of Canadians in their communities is something that we will never flinch on, that we will continue to deliver and we will deliver in a way that pulls Canadians together instead of dividing them, like the Conservatives tend to be doing.”

However, Deputy Conservative Leader Lisa Raitt said the shuffle is an acknowledgement by the PMO that the government has failed. “It’s the last-ditch attempt to finish that homework at the last minute, to try and get the approval when they go to the election next time. I don’t think it’s going to make one whit of difference. Canadians are going to judge upon what is being delivered.”

MP Raitt stated: “It’s time now to have a plan to deal with the problems and the aftermath. Not a Band-Aid solution. And what has been the response? Well, the response has been to appoint another cabinet minister. If the Prime Minister wants to characterize it in some kind of battle of semantics, that’s going to be his desire to do so. I’m not going to engage on that level with him. What I ask of him is a plan and a way to fix the problem that we have currently, to give everybody assurances that our system is fair and it works.”

The cabinet shuffle was Justin Trudeau’s second in this mandate; the first major cabinet retooling was in January 2017.

Chris Hall, CBC’s National Affairs Editor, summed up the moves as being all about the 2019 election: “Make no mistake. This shuffle is all about positioning ahead of the next election. The Liberals’ path to another majority depends on winning more seats in Ontario and Quebec, and holding as many seats as possible in urban ridings across the country.”

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS.  ChrisG.George@gmail.com

 

LINK:  https://niagaraindependent.ca/pm-fine-tunes-his-cabinet-with-an-election-shuffle/

The Canada-U.S. Trade Talks Saga (Part Two)

The Niagara Independent , July 13, 2018 – This is the second of a three column series on the Canada-U.S. trade talks. This column reflects on the criticism that the Liberals have purposely sabotaged the trade negotiations for their political gain in an election year.

Not all are supportive of the Trudeau Government’s trade negotiation tactics with the United States.

With Canada’s national election only 16 months away, it is now anticipated that the fate of the trade agreement with our southern neighbor will be a central campaign issue. Lawrence Solomon, policy director for Toronto-based Probe International, suggests Trudeau is using the trade talks to position for a tough re-election year by creating a boogeyman and a crisis: “NAFTA necessarily thus becomes not an economic exercise but a political one.”

In a stinging editorial piece he wrote for the Financial Post, Solomon opines that PM Trudeau’s statements at the closing of the G7 Economic Summit in June were calculated and that the Liberals are now in campaign mode to win votes – at the expense of our country’s economy and well-being. He writes: “Canadians are polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around,” Trudeau grandstanded as soon as Trump turned his back. It’s a brilliant political strategy. By playing to the Canadian public at Trump’s expense, Trudeau’s popularity has soared. But although Trudeau may be winning in the polls, Canadians are wrong to think Trudeau is winning for them.”

Perhaps the most critical assessment of the PM and Liberals’ trade negotiations efforts comes from Conservative MP Max Bernier when he baldly states that Justin Trudeau has “totally bungled our trade relationship with the US.” Bernier says, “You would think they deliberately wanted these negotiations to fail! The purpose of free trade is not to enshrine social programs and to virtue signal how “progressive” you are. It’s to remove trade barriers and allow businesses and consumers to exchange goods and services freely!”

Bernier continues, “…instead of thinking strategically, Trudeau and his minister Chrystia Freeland stupidly opened negotiations with new demands related to gender and aboriginal issues, labour rights and climate change.”

This criticism echoes the assessment of former PM Stephen Harper who questioned the Liberals’ trade approach in a private October 2017 letter he penned to his business clients. Mr. Harper observed that the Liberals were “napping on NAFTA” and criticized their position for: 1) rejecting too quickly the opening proposals made by U.S. negotiators; 2) insisting on negotiating alongside Mexico; and, 3) promoting progressive priorities like labour, gender, aboriginal and environmental issues.

However, Max Bernier takes this argument further when he impugns political motives in the Liberals actions: “Trudeau is counting on this fight with our neighbour to prop up his popularity by appealing to Canadian patriotism, and perhaps call a snap election in the fall.”

Former Conservative finance minister Joe Oliver claims in using the trade talks as a play for votes that, “Trudeau has left us vulnerable to NAFTA failure he made more likely.”

“He rebuked a notoriously sensitive president, virtue-signaled our self-proclaimed moral superiority and pestered the U.S. Administration with dead-on-arrival progressive obsessions that have been rejected by our trading partners around the world.”

Oliver claims: “His [PM Trudeau’s] NAFTA negotiating strategy seems based as much on protecting sacrosanct industries, like supply management, as achieving a more comprehensive free trade deal that would broaden access to the vast U.S. market.”

The last critical word on Canada’s trade tactics goes to a tweet from David Jacobs (@DrJacobsRad), a conservative commentator, who wryly observes: “Celebrating Trudeau for taking an aggressive stance in the current trade war with the USA is like celebrating an arsonist for putting out a blaze that he started.”

 

Next week: Given the current political discord, what will be the fallout for Canadians – and what might be the eventual end-game for the trade talks?

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. ChrisG.George@gmail.com

 

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-canada-u-s-trade-talks-saga-part-two/

 

The Canada-U.S. Trade Talks Saga (Part One)

The Niagara Independent, July 6, 2018 – In Ottawa, there are two prevailing threads of thought on what has become the never-ending saga of the Canada-U.S. Trade Talks. One is rallying behind Prime Minister Trudeau and supporting the Liberal Government’s attempt to reason with an unpredictable U.S. President. The second is highly critical, suggesting that the Liberals are purposely sabotaging the negotiations for their own domestic political gains. The next three columns will review the political gamesmanship between Canada and the U.S. and assess what all the public posturing may mean for the outcome of the trade talks – and for the 2019 federal election.

For months, Ottawa’s political networks and national press corps have been wholly focused on U.S. President Donald Trump and his every utterance on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Canadians are anxious. Given the magnitude of trade between our two countries, NAFTA has a large impact on our country’s economic growth and maintaining our standard of living.

A number of Canadian political and business leaders are supportive of the Trudeau Liberals’ trade efforts to date. Almost all are sympathetic and defending PM Trudeau in the wake of the disastrous wrap-up to the recent G7 Economic Summit. Today, the personal and working relationships between a Canadian PM and a US President (and, therefore, the fate of the NAFTA talks) have never appeared on more unstable ground. A pivotal moment passed at the G7 Summit and there are many conflicting accounts about what exactly happened. But, after assuming the two leaders had come to an agreement on core elements of a trade deal in their private conversations, President Trump took insult to the PMs closing remarks. The President went on a multi-tweet rant about how PM Trudeau had blindsided him, insulting Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak.” The President’s trade advisor Peter Navarro said there was a “special place in hell” for Trudeau for betraying the President.

That outbreak immediately evoked base reactions. Somewhat diplomatically, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland stated her nation “does not conduct its diplomacy through ad hominem attacks” (and then just a few days later in Washington she made not-so-subtle comparisons between Trump and Hitler).

The PMs comments and the subsequent name calling served to galvanize Canadians’ feelings of uneasiness and disapproval with the U.S. President. Being the victim of the President’s scorn, Trudeau gained newfound support in his negotiating stance with the President. Former PM Brian Mulroney stated: “I’ve never seen language like this. Least of all from subordinates of the president directed at the prime minister of their greatest friend and ally. This, I’ve never seen before. Nor has anybody else… International negotiations, they have their ebbs and flows. This is an ebb.”

John Manley, former Liberal deputy prime minister, who now serves as president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, publicly stated that though it may be “very tough,” the Trudeau government must “stay the course.” Manley offered this advice: “I think that maybe Prime Minister Trudeau should consult with, I don’t know, a psychologist or somebody to say, ‘How do I deal with an important counterpart who has this tendency to narcissistic personality disorder?’”

Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, said, “It’s kind of like if you were sitting with a friend and then out of the blue, you just punched them in the face. The wounds will heal, but the question [is] how does the relationship get impacted?… I think it was a line crossed and a bridge too far. They owe you an apology.”

(Yet, for Canadians, better than an apology would be a signature on a trade agreement.)

 

Next week: Have the Liberals purposely sabotaged the trade negotiations for their political gain in an election year?

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. ChrisG.George@gmail.com

 

LINK:  https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-canada-u-s-trade-talks-saga-part-one/