· CBC News · Posted: Jan 10, 2019
“Canada has engaged in a number of charm offensives … and so far, those
efforts have yielded next to nothing” .
The prime minister’s inner circle is
ramping up another lobbying push in Washington to terminate
American tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Two senior government sources say that
ministers with connections to American national security portfolios will be
tasked with reaching out to specific U.S. officials to push Canada’s
The campaign is based on Canada’s
long-standing position that the tariffs are both illegal and absurd.
Last June, the Trump administration invoked
a rarely used national security provision — Section 232 of the Trade
Expansion Act of 1962 — to impose 25 per cent tariffs on imported
steel and 10 per cent tariffs on imported aluminum.
The tariffs are based on the argument that,
in the event of a national emergency, the U.S. needs robust domestic steel
and aluminum industries. Canada has openly attacked the tariffs, pointing out
that Canada is not a threat to U.S. national security.
One source said the new lobbying campaign
actually began when Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland met with U.S.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a visit to Washington in December.
Early in the new year, Defence Minister
Harjit Sajjan delivered a similar anti-tariff message over the phone to the new
U.S. acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.
And Finance Minister Bill Morneau also made
Canada’s case during a face-to-face meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve
Mnuchin in Washington yesterday.
Now, the lobbying push is seeking new
targets. Officials at the Canadian embassy in Washington are drafting a
list of influential Americans who may be open to Canada’s message.
Once that list is complete, individual
ministers will be tasked with reaching out to those officials, by phone or in
person, to press Canada’s case.
Both Freeland and Morneau will use the
upcoming World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as a forum to meet with
their American counterparts and push them to nix the tariffs.
They won’t see U.S. President Donald Trump
there. Trump announced on Twitter today that he would be skipping the forum to
focus on the current federal government shutdown and a swelling dispute with
House Democrats over his demand for a border wall.
Paul Moen, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy
Group and an international trade lawyer, said Canada’s strategy makes
sense — but it should also reach out to business and labour leaders and
the new faces in Congress who took office in the November midterm elections.
“With the new Congress in place,
that’s a new opportunity to build some new relationships, build on some old
ones, but also to broaden the engagement with the business community, with the
labour community,” he told CBC News.
But Mark Rowlinson, a spokesman for
United Steelworkers Canada, said the window for charm offensives has long since
closed and it’s time for Canada to draw “a line in the sand” by
refusing to ratify the revamped North American trade deal until the tariffs are
“I’m skeptical,” he said. “It’s
clearly the case that Canada has never posed a threat to U.S. national
security, and I don’t think anyone on either side of the border has ever really
taken that seriously. Canada has engaged in a number of charm offensives …
and so far, those efforts have yielded next to nothing.
“What they should be doing is saying,
‘We will not sign, we will not ratify the new Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade
agreement, unless and until these tariffs are dropped.”
In fact, neither of the two senior
government sources who spoke to CBC News is optimistic that Trump will abandon
his enthusiasm for tariffs any time soon.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted a defence of his
tariff policy by quoting an interview on Fox News with Mark Glyptis, a
local president of the United Steelworkers union from West Virginia.
One of the sources said that Canada will be
stepping away from any arguments that connect the tariffs to the updated North
American free trade agreement.
Some American lawmakers and business
leaders who oppose the tariffs have said publicly they should be dropped,
since they were meant only to serve as leverage in the trade negotiations.
One of the sources told CBC
that Canada doesn’t want to touch that argument because it’s too similar
to the line Mexican officials are taking in their own push to end the American
Canada does not want to be lumped in with
Mexico, the source said, because Mexico might end up agreeing with
American demands for export quotas on steel.
CBC News has reported that American trade
officials want both Canada and Mexico to accept caps on how much steel they can
import into the United States, based on a portion of what was imported in 2017.
“That’s crazy,” said the source,
adding Canada will not entertain the idea of accepting quotas.