O’Toole says Canada-U.S. relations have never been worse

O'Toole says Canada-U.S. relations have never been worse-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole speaks during a news conference responding to the federal government’s COVID-19 response in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said today the Canada-U.S. relationship is at its lowest point in decades — a development that threatens to stall Canada’s growth and derail some sectors of the economy.

Speaking at a virtual event with Nova Scotia chambers of commerce, O’Toole said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done little to stop the U.S. from pursuing punitive policies. O’Toole pointed to a list of grievances, including recent hikes to softwood lumber tariffs and an ongoing dispute over P.E.I. potatoes.

In November, the U.S. Department of Commerce doubled the amount of duty it imposes on softwood lumber coming from Canada — a significant escalation in the years-long fight over this issue. Washington claims Canadian producers dump their product in the U.S. at subsidized prices, undercutting their American counterparts.

Last month, facing threats from the U.S., Canada voluntarily halted fresh potato exports from P.E.I. after a wart fungus was discovered at two of the province’s farms.

And just last week, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office claimed victory when Canada lost a fight over trade quotas for dairy products before a Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) dispute panel.

Those trade losses follow U.S. President Joe Biden’s earlier decision to cancel permits for the Keystone XL pipeline — a multi-billion dollar blow to Alberta’s oilpatch. The Biden administration also has done little to stop Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, from trying to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline — a crucial artery that supplies oil products and natural gas to power huge portions of the Canadian economy.

“We have never seen, in modern Canadian history, Canada-U.S. relations at such a low point. We just lost a recent trade battle with respect to supply management — we’ve been losing on agriculture. We’re losing on forestry products. There’s been steel and aluminum tariffs and Buy America that has us losing on manufacturing,” O’Toole said, pointing to a U.S. government policy to shift government procurement to American firms.

O’Toole said snarled Canada-U.S. supply chains also have resulted in higher consumer prices at home.

“Since the 1960s, Canada has had an integrated supply chain, particularly in manufacturing, with the U.S. and we should be restoring that relationship and making sure supply chain shortages — whether it’s microchips or food — are solved on a Canada-U.S. basis,” he said. “That would start easing off the pressure we’re seeing with inflation.”

While lamenting the state of bilateral relations, O’Toole cheered the apparent defeat of Biden’s signature piece of domestic legislation, the Build Back Better Act.

That $1.9 trillion bill included a sizeable tax credit worth up to $12,500 US to buyers of new electric vehicles (EVs) — as long as those cars are manufactured by union workers in the United States. That credit had the potential to devastate the Canadian auto sector.

“Thankfully, the Build Back Better plan was held back by one U.S. senator,” O’Toole said, referring to U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia. “Mr. Biden’s plan would have unfairly assisted electric vehicle manufacturing in the United States.”

Before Manchin said he’d vote against the bill and the tax credits — the U.S. Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans and his support was central to the bill’s passage — the Canadian government vowed to take strong retaliatory action.

On softwood lumber, International Trade Minister Mary Ng recently filed a challenge under CUSMA, the North American trade pact, against the new U.S. softwood lumber duties. Canadian and U.S. officials are also scheduled to meet this week to negotiate an end to the dispute over P.E.I. potatoes.

Trudeau with Biden-Milenio Stadium-Canada
U.S. President Joe Biden, right, shakes hands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House on Nov. 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

It’s not the first time the opposition leader has lambasted Trudeau’s handling of the bilateral relationship. At the North American Leaders’ Summit in November, Biden said Canada was one his “easiest” relationships, a comment that prompted O’Toole to call Trudeau a “pushover” and remark that “a one-way street is quite easy.”

“It is no wonder President Biden said that Canada under this prime minister is his ‘easiest’ relationship. It is easy for the U.S. to win under this government,” O’Toole said in a December speech in the House of Commons.

“The current prime minister has led our country through the steepest decline in Canada-U.S. relations in the modern age over the course of three different administrations,” O’Toole said in another November speech.

“It is easy for the U.S. to dominate, easy for the U.S. to win with the current prime minister and easy to ignore Canada under the current Liberal government.”

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