Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he is going to defend supply management – despite rumours that the federal government is considering concessions on dairy in order to get a NAFTA deal signed.
“I can’t speculate [on NAFTA], I’m not sitting at the table. I know one thing: I’m going to protect supply management and I’m going to protect automotive workers,” Ford told Don Martin, host of CTV’s Power Play, during an interview Monday.
Ford went on to say that he has “stood shoulder to shoulder with the prime minister” when it comes to the NAFTA talks.
“We need to stand united on the free trade,” Ford said.
That unity could be challenged if Trudeau’s negotiators concede on dairy.
The Trump administration has been putting the pressure on Canada’s trade negotiators to buckle on supply management, an agricultural policy that limits production of dairy, eggs and poultry to prevent the market from getting saturated.
Larry Kudlow, the director of U.S. President Donald Trump’s National Economic Council, saidlast week that dairy is the main issue preventing a deal.
"I think the United States would rather have a trade deal with Canada, but it has to be a good deal, right? And the word that continues to block the deal is m-i-l-k, OK?," Kudlow said on “Varney & Co.,” a Fox Business Network show.
But Trudeau has hinted that the government might be willing to bow to Trump’s pressure.
“Is there room for flexibility? We'll see, and that depends on the kind of negotiations we have," Trudeau said in a recent interview with Edmonton radio station CHED.
Despite Trudeau leaving wiggle room on the supply management system he has vowed to defend, Ford took a conciliatory tone towards the federal government when it comes to the NAFTA file.
“We’re going to stand shoulder to shoulder with our federal partners and get this done because this affects Ontario more than it affects any other province,” Ford said.
“We do $389 billion of trade between ourselves and the U.S. just Ontario alone – so I’m going to be fighting for the people of Ontario.”
If Canada does concede on dairy it could risk more than just the federal government’s already rocky relationship with Ford. It could hurt the Liberals’ chances in the 2019 election – at least that’s what former Quebec premier Jean Charest said on CTV’s Question Period Sunday.
"For this government to go out and be seen as giving too much to the American side on agriculture, and dairy in particular, would be ... almost suicidal politically," Charest said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s team returns to the U.S. Tuesday to continue NAFTA negotiations. The minister has refused to get into the specifics of the negotiations, but both she and Trudeau have said repeatedly that Canada would rather walk away from the negotiating table then settle for a bad deal.
"We're not going to accept that we should have to sign a bad deal just because the president wants that," Trudeau said.