Trudeau’s Tariff Failure Threatens New Year Devastation for Many Canadians

The following opinion column by Ken Neumann, United Steelworkers National Director for Canada, has been published in the Globe and Mail.

A gloomy holiday season awaits thousands of Canadians whose livelihoods depend on our domestic steel and aluminum industries, their family gatherings sure to be tinged by a sense of foreboding for what lies ahead in the new year.

For months, workers and manufacturers across the country have increasingly been feeling the threat stemming from U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum – levies that are widely recognized as illegal under international trade rules. These fears are exacerbated by recurring reports that the United States is making unacceptable demands for export quotas as alternatives to the illegal tariffs.

A chilling reality is setting in for more and more Canadians – our government has surrendered its leverage to fix the steel and aluminum crisis and avert devastation for so many families and communities.

Federal government data indicate that since the Trump administration’s “national security” tariffs came into effect in June, monthly Canadian steel exports to the United States have plummeted by up to 29 per cent and aluminum exports have dropped by as much as 25 per cent.

Canada’s steel and aluminum sectors directly and indirectly support 175,000 middle-class jobs across the country. With no positive resolution to the tariff dispute in sight, these Canadian families and businesses are bracing for the worst in 2019.

Business, community and labour leaders have been clear in warning Ottawa of the potential for massive, permanent damage from the crisis.

The chamber of commerce in southwestern Ontario’s Elgin County, for example, reports an imminent, direct threat to 5,000 manufacturing-related jobs – a staggering 25 per cent of all employment in the region – with thousands more jobs indirectly at risk.

Multiply such dire scenarios across the country and it becomes evident that fears of devastating impacts in the new year are not overblown.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. But the Liberal government has repeatedly failed in its promise to defend the interests of Canada’s steel and aluminum workers.

There was much sunny optimism at the outset of negotiations on a new North American free-trade agreement, with the Liberals promising Canadians a “win-win-win” deal for all parties.

The Prime Minister launched a photo-op tour of Canadian steel and aluminum plants and buoyantly assured workers that he “had your backs.” He apparently warned Donald Trump that any prospect of U.S. tariffs would result in “a negative impact” on trade negotiations.

Mr. Trudeau said he “accepted” Mr. Trump’s promise that “as long as there is a free-trade deal in North America, there won’t be tariffs.”

Of course, Mr. Trump did impose tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, freely acknowledging he did so to gain leverage in the trade talks.

Despite such objectionable behaviour, the Trudeau government bowed to Mr. Trump’s demands for significant concessions in the new trade agreement, while refusing to insist on the critical quid pro quo – repeal of the U.S. tariffs.

With this historic capitulation, Mr. Trudeau willingly ceded his greatest bargaining chip to get rid of the tariffs. He set the stage for the crisis now facing so many Canadian families and communities. He betrayed his promise to steel and aluminum workers that he had their backs.

In the ensuing months, the Prime Minister has refused to change course. He cavalierly rejects Canadians’ pleas for his government to refuse to sign or ratify the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) until the tariffs are lifted.

While Mr. Trudeau has taken to musing unconvincingly about regaining an advantage through relationships with U.S. businesses and governors, the Trump administration is contemplating more spurious tariffs against Canada, this time targeting our uranium industry.

Can there be any other credible assumption that – if there is to be a resolution to the tariffs-quota dispute – it will come on U.S. terms and at the expense of Canadian workers?

Unless the Trudeau government decides it will not ratify the USMCA until Canada is exempted from U.S. tariffs and quotas, the answer appears obvious.