U.S. tariffs may become an election issue in Canada: MacNaughton
David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to the United States, fields questions at the morning session as the Liberal cabinet meets in St. John's, N.L. on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Published Thursday, April 25, 2019 4:10PM EDT
OTTAWA – The U.S.-imposed steel and aluminum tariffs are set to become a Canadian election issue if they’re still in place by the time the federal election campaign gets underway, says Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton.
Speaking at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event in Washington, D.C., MacNaughton said he was optimistic that a solution could be weeks away, but if that doesn’t come to fruition, the issue will be debated during the coming fall federal race.
“I’m confident we will get out of this sooner rather than later,” he said.
“I can’t imagine that if those tariffs are still on that they won’t be part of an election campaign,” MacNaughton told reporters following his remarks.
MacNaughton said that he can’t see any political party in Canada taking the position of backing down on the push to have the Americans drop the tariffs.
“Clearly one of the issues that is going to be part of any election campaign I’m sure, is who is best to deal with the United States of America, and part of that is getting things done, but part of it is standing up to the Americans when they do things that aren’t right,” MacNaughton said. “If those tariffs are still on it’s going to be a subject of some debate.”
The tariffs were imposed by the U.S. last spring in the midst of NAFTA talks, citing national security concerns as their justification. Canada responded with its own dollar-for-dollar countermeasures on American steel, aluminum, and other goods. Canadian officials have already said these retaliatory measures would be lifted the minute the Americans dropped their tariffs, though the governing Liberals have been criticized by the opposition for not resolving the damaging trade action before inking the deal.
“I do not believe that the Parliament of Canada will pass this legislation as long as the 232 tariffs are in place… it is an unnecessary impediment to getting a really good agreement passed in all three countries,” MacNaughton said. Though if the tariffs were lifted, “I would expect that the government would introduce legislation fairly soon thereafter.”
After nearly 14 months of negotiations, the trilateral trade pact was reached last fall, and signed a short while later. It is called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA in America, and the Canada-United States-Mexico-Agreement, or CUSMA, here. The deal has been heralded as a win by all three countries although concessions were made, including on access to Canada's supply-managed sectors. Since the signing, all attention has been focused on ratification given that the existing NAFTA will remain in place until its revamped version is fully ratified.
As things stand, the time is diminishing on that possibility given the amount of movement that would have to happen across North America over the next six weeks. That’s when Parliament rises for the last time before the October election will be called. Among the obstacles yet to overcome: In the U.S. Democrats have said that the deal without changes won’t have their vote, nor will they allow a vote in Congress until Mexico changes its labour laws.
MacNaughton said that it is “unlikely” that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would recall Parliament after it rises in June to ratify the new NAFTA deal before the next election, should Canada be in a position to do so.
“I think the base assumption has to be that Parliament’s going to rise on the 15 of June and it is unlikely that they would come back before the election,” he said.
Currently, the House of Commons is scheduled to sit until June 21 at the latest, but adjournment often comes earlier if the government feels it’s accomplished what’s necessary from a parliamentary point of view, and if all sides can come to an agreement on wrapping business up. This year it’s hard to see adjournment coming very early, given the around two dozen of pieces of key government legislation that have yet to pass.
Speaking hypothetically, MacNaughton said that should the momentum be there, “it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility” that Trudeau could bring MPs back if he wanted to.
“How Parliament deals with that, how the opposition will deal with it, and then of course it’s got to go the Senate, but I think there’d be a fair bit of pressure on members of parliament to pass it, to create some certainty in terms of the investment climate,” he said.
U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence was speaking to a crowd of auto industry executives yesterday and suggested that the deal needs to be ratified, and then the tariff issue would be looked at.
MacNaughton called that “not a winning combination.”
“We just need to get on with getting that agreement approved and dropping the tariffs that are causing the kind of tension that exist at the present moment.”
With files from CTVNews’ Washington Bureau Correspondent Richard Madan