Trudeau Imposes Retaliatory Trade Tariffs Against the U.S.

It is in the long term interest of Canada to unravel the intertwined economy between the two countries says Dimitri Lascaris

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SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome to the Canada update on The Real News Network. Now, Canada is still reeling from steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the Trump administration. Canadians are particularly miffed by the fact that Trump used a national security clause of the WTO agreement to apply these tariffs. Here’s Justin Trudeau complaining about the tariffs.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU: It would be with regret, but it would be with absolute certainty and firmness that we move forward with retaliatory measures on July 1, applying equivalent tariffs to the ones that the Americans have unjustly applied to us. I have made it very clear to the president that it is not something we relish doing, but it is something that we absolutely will do. Because Canadians, we’re polite, were reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, both prime minister of Canada and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is leading a global fight against the Trump administration on steel and aluminum tariffs, the tariffs not only against Canada, but they’re also against EU countries and beyond. Here’s foreign minister of Canada, Chrystia Freeland, claiming that in times of tariffs, it helps to have friends in high places. She’s referring to the EU trade commissioner here.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: The European Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, and I call each other sisters in trade. We sign our e-mails, “hugs.” Yes, we do. We sometimes send each other smiley faces in particularly difficult moments. And that close collaboration has been particularly important as last Thursday approached and it started to look more and more as if the U.S. Would actually go ahead and impose tariffs on steel and aluminum exports from its closest allies. So, we were able to coordinate very closely with the Europeans. The lists that- the retaliation lists that we announced were built in close collaboration. The timing of the retaliation was part of a very close collaborative discussion, and that makes our impact stronger, and that’s a great thing.

SHARMINI PERIES: Chrystia Freeland, foreign minister of Canada, is also seen on US television, here on CNN.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: And I would just say to all of Canada’s American friends, and there are so many, seriously? Do you really believe that Canada, that your NATO allies represent a national security threat to you? And that’s why the prime minister said, “It is frankly, insulting.”

SHARMINI PERIES: And in Washington DC, where she was receiving an award for being the top diplomat by Foreign Policy magazine.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: The two-three-two tariffs introduced by the United States are illegal under WTO and NAFTA rules. They are protectionism, pure and simple. They are not a response to unfair actions by other countries that put American industry at a disadvantage. They are a naked example of the United States putting its thumb on the scale, in violation of the very rules it helped to write.

SHARMINI PERIES: On to talk about all of this with me is our correspondent in Quebec, Dimitri Lascaris. He’s also a lawyer and our climate and environmental beat reporter. Thank you so much for joining us, Dimitri.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thanks for having me back, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Dimitri. Let’s start off with this whole warfare, trade warfare that everybody is talking about, that was evoked because of the tariffs on steel and aluminum. Your thoughts on how the Canadian- particularly Canadian leadership there, and the government of Canada is responding to this.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, I don’t think Canadians are going to draw much sustenance from the use of smiley faces by Canada’s foreign minister. You know, the trade relationship between Canada the United States is probably unparalleled anywhere in the world. There’s approximately six hundred and seventy-four billion dollars of trade in 2017, with the U.S. having an eight point four billion surplus. Each day about four hundred thousand people cross what constitutes the world’s longest international border, many of them to engage in commerce. So, this is a trade relationship which is of profound importance to the Canadian economy.

Let me say, Sharmini, that this is the result of a very concerted, decades long policy of successive liberal and conservative governments to intertwine, ever more closely, the two economies of our country. And that has created a very risky situation for Canada. We have a relatively undiversified set of trade relationships. Our relationship with the United States is the elephant in the room, and this has repeatedly caused the Canadian government to adopt positions that were quite conciliatory to the US government. And that becomes particularly dangerous when the US administration is the one led by somebody like Donald Trump, who is such an unstable leader, such an authoritarian leader, who has shown misogynistic tendencies, fascistic tendencies, complete disregard for human rights. You really don’t want to be in bed, deep in bed with a regime like that. But that’s precisely the situation we now find ourselves in. And even a former U.S. ambassador to Canada has noted, very recently, how dangerous this is for Canada.

Bruce Hayman, ex-U.S. ambassador to this country, said recently that it is in fact in the long-term interests of Canada that there be a trade war, even though it may cause short-term pain, because it will ultimately force Canada to diversify its trade relationships. That’s precisely what we should have done decades ago, and we need to begin that process as quickly as possible. Speaking for myself, if there’s a breakdown in NAFTA, in the long-run that may actually be beneficial to Canadians. But here, the punditry is talking about it as though it’s some sort of a nightmare scenario that must be avoided at all costs.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, now Dimitri, is quite a departure from Justin Trudeau’s initial approach to Trump, when he arrived with the family to visit Canada shorty- visit the U.S. shortly upon the inauguration of Donald Trump. And he’s made multiple visits to the White House and it’s been very friendly and up and up. What do you attribute to Justin Trudeau’s, this anti-Trump campaign that he’s on now.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: I think his hand was forced. I mean, at the end of the G7, we saw something here in this country which we have not seen for decades. In fact, I don’t recall ever hearing or seen anything like this. The president and his close aides referred to the Canadian prime minister as weak, dishonest. They characterized him as a backstabber. And one of them even said that Trudeau deserves a special place in hell. And the Conservative leader, one of the top conservative politicians here- I believe it was Jason Kenney, who was a former minister in the Stephen Harper government, is now the leader of the Alberta right-wing Conservative Party, even he was marveling at the fact that Trump seemed to be much more conciliatory and friendly with the leader of North Korea than with the Canadian prime minister.

This follows, as you’ve noted, weeks- months, I should say, really from the very outset of the Trump administration, of a very conciliatory approach to Trump by Justin Trudeau. For example, the Muslim ban, the highly controversial Muslim ban, and I think fair to say, bigoted Muslim ban, that Trump started from the beginning of his administration to put into effect, did not elicit a peep of criticism from Justin Trudeau, nothing of any substance. When Donald Trump referred to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa by means of an insulting expletive, not a peep of criticism from Justin Trudeau.

You know, when he pulled out of the Iran deal, which was almost universally opposed other than by the state of Israel, there was very modest- I mean, it wasn’t really criticism. It was more of an expression of a reservation to this policy by the Canadian government. This policy of conciliation, this approach of conciliation, is clearly an abject failure. I mean, what happened at the G7 shows that dealing with Trump in that manner is not going to garner his respect, it isn’t going to protect Canada from retaliatory measures. And now, there is a sudden reevaluation of that policy, and as a result of it, this tough talk, or at least tougher talk you’re hearing out of Trudeau has corresponded with a dramatic increase in his popularity rating. It went from forty percent, his approval rating, to fifty-two percent in a matter of a few months, many people attributing that to the fact that he’s finally adopted a reasonably tough stance in the face of the predations of the Trump administration.

SHARMINI PERIES: And one cannot ignore the fact that this is, of course, playing out well in Canada. As you cite, the polls are reflecting that. But he’s also stepping into a year next year where he will have to stand for re-election.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: That is undoubtedly influencing Justin Trudeau. In fact, recent polls show that his party is more or less tied with that of the conservative party of Andrew Scheer. And there is a lot of disenchantment in this country about his failure to follow through with main, very important campaign commitments, for example, on fighting climate change. His purchase of the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline cannot be reconciled with his commitment on climate change.

He promised that this would be, or the last election would be the last election in which we use the first-past-the-post electoral system, which results in parties that have a minority of the vote obtaining a majority of the seats in parliament. He’s not reforming the electoral electoral system at all. And there have been other- oh, and also, he’d promised to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, but in fact, has maintained them. So, there have been a whole range of promises that have really put him on thin ice with the Canadian electorate. I have no doubt that that is weighing heavily in the minds of the liberal leadership as the 2019 election approaches.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now Dimitri, one of the agenda items at the G7 summit was a reaffirmation of the commitments of the G7 countries to the Paris climate agreement. And now, partly all of this was derailed by Trump arriving at the G7 and the tariffs and so on. But give us a sense of Justin Trudeau appearing as a climate ambassador as something that he is committed to doing, and reducing emissions, and the contradictions in that appearance of a climate advocate.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: You know, when dealing with the Trudeau administration or government, as is so often the case in Western politics, one must always compare the reality to the rhetoric. The reality is that Canada is on a path to greatly exceed its commitment under the Paris climate accord. And in fact, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, not necessarily an objective source, but nonetheless, what they have to say is something that we should pay attention to when we’re talking about prognostications about future oil use in this country. They just issued a report predicting that the tar sands production will increase by fifty percent in the coming years.

What we need to be doing is phasing out the tar sands as rapidly as we can do so, consistently with a reasonably healthy economy. The Trudeau government is running in the opposite direction, and as I just mentioned, not only is it determined to go ahead with building fossil infrastructure to support the tar sands industry. It has failed. It’s now had three years to do it. It has failed to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, which is the ultimate insanity. Why you would subsidize fossil fuels when we need to be keeping them in the ground is simply inexplicable. So, saying at the G7, we want to reaffirm our leadership in the Paris climate accord, or in terms of ensuring its respect, saying that is one thing. There is absolutely no action of any substance to back up that reaffirmation, unfortunately.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Dimitri, Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada just had made a commitment, just a few weeks ago, to buy the Kinder Morgan Pipeline at some five billion dollars. And now, all of this is taking place at the same time when the Pope, trying to enforce his Encyclical about the environment and climate change, is actually meeting with the fossil fuel industry, asking them to curtail the emissions and save the earth. And and the G7 is talking about reaffirming the Paris climate agreement, yet Trudeau’s contradictions are just too much to handle here.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: You know, as we reported earlier this week, Sharmini, the Pope told senior executives of the world’s leading oil companies, including Exxon Mobil and BP, who were at the Vatican to hear his speech, and I’m quoting the Pope, “There is no time to lose.” And it is absolutely imperative that we begin to phase out tar sands. There’s simply no escaping that reality. And not only is Trudeau not doing that, but he’s being urged to even sacrifice Canadian lives by leaders on the Bay Street.

I mean, we had the most remarkable statement by the former governor of the Bank of Canada, David Dodge, a couple of days ago at a conference in Edmonton, that- he said definitively, “Canadians will die resisting this pipeline.” And then he went on to say, but Justin Trudeau must have the “fortitude,” the fortitude to stand up and complete the construction of this project, which is going to increase by a factor of three. The amount of diluted bitumen coming from the tar sands to the west coast of Canada is going to increase by a factor of seven, oil tanker traffic on the on the west coast of Canada. You know, what Justin Trudeau is doing cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be reconciled either with the Paris climate accord or with the Pope’s exhortations to take action now.

SHARMINI PERIES: Dimitri, are any of these contradictions on the part of Trudeau’s leadership, or lack thereof, when it comes to the climate being realized by all these young people that ended up supporting him in the last election and wanted some serious action on the climate?

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, I think the fact that he had a forty percent approval rating after being wildly popular outside of his government, I think that says quite a bit about how the population and particularly young people, who have given him a lot of support the last election, feel about his broken promises, particularly with respect to the climate change. I think he has a bit of an ace- I wouldn’t go so far as to state as an ace in the hole, but it certainly is a card that he can play to strengthen his standing amongst young voters.

And that is, he does appear to remain committed to the legalization, or at least the quasi-legalization, of cannabis in Canada. And so, there is legislation being advanced, and that’s a policy that’s very popular amongst young voters. So, he may be able to rehabilitate his image amongst them between now and the election next year, in large part by pursuing that initiative and fulfilling that campaign promise. But I don’t think anybody’s going to forget entirely how badly he’s betrayed his commitment to be a climate champion.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, in relation to the climate, again, here. The newly elected premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, had a few things to say about cap and trade this week. Give us the highlights of that statement.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, entered into a cap and trade system with its neighboring province of Quebec and with the state of California in January of this year. And Doug Ford, the conservative premier-elect, campaigned explicitly on a promise to take Ontario out of that cap and trade system. The province has raised nearly two point nine billion dollars from the sale of carbon credits, according to a report issued last month. The money goes toward the operation of something called the Green Ontario Fund to pay for climate-friendly programs, rebates for home upgrades and clean technology pilot projects. Ford’s Conservative Party criticized the program because it results in higher costs to consumers for natural gas and gasoline. But Sharmini, that’s exactly what it is supposed to do. And that’s exactly what we should be doing.

We need to be deterring people from consuming fossil fuels by raising the cost of these polluting substances. We should not be encouraging fossil fuels consumption by lowering the cost of polluting. And yet, Doug Ford said, right out of the gate yesterday, that the first piece of legislation he intends to put forward is legislation withdrawing Ontario from the cap and trade system. Quebec is alarmed by this, understandably so, and they pointed out that their economy is going strong. In fact, Quebec, where I live, and as part of that system, has full employment and a growing economy. The whole notion that this is injurious to the economy is bogus, frankly, and it seems like nothing other than a sort of right-wing ideology that fits nicely within the agenda of the fossil fuels industry in Canada, which has quite a bit of power.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Dimitri. I thank you so much for joining us today on The Real News Network and giving us this Canada update. I know there’s so much more to talk about, so I will look forward to having you back next week.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Always a pleasure, Sharmini, thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.