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Long-awaited end to Canada’s tariff standoff with U.S. finally at hand

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OTTAWA — U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration agreed Friday to drop its punitive and controversial tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, ending a bitter dispute between historic allies and removing a key obstacle to ratifying the new North American trade pact.

Canada and the U.S. both say they will now work together in the coming weeks to get legal approval of the new continental trade deal — a reboot of the original, 25-year-old NAFTA, which Trump has staked much of his political reputation on either replacing or ripping up.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau framed his victory lap carefully so as not to offend the mercurial U.S. president, who called him weak and dishonest after last year’s G7 summit in Quebec — a nadir on Canada-U.S. relations that came at the height of cross-border tensions over trade and tariffs, Trump’s preferred lever when it comes to foreign relations.

“This is just pure good news for Canadians,” Trudeau said Friday during a previously unscheduled, last-minute visit to a Stelco plant in Hamilton, Canada’s steel-manufacturing capital.

“Families will know that their jobs are just a little more secure.”

Trudeau avoided mentioning China by name — the country that the U.S. and Canada must now carefully monitor, under the terms of the agreement, to prevent cheap foreign steel from being dumped into North America. Canada is embroiled in a political crisis with China, which has jailed two Canadian men on national-security grounds and imposed a death sentence on a third for drug smuggling.

The breakthrough was good news politically for an embattled Liberal government that is heading into a federal election in October and must win seats in vote-rich Ontario, where Conservative Premier Doug Ford has mounted a public campaign against the federal carbon tax.

Ford issued a statement, without naming Trudeau, that said he was “pleased” on behalf of his province’s workers that the tariffs were coming off.

The deal is a foreign policy win for Trudeau, whose oversight of Canada’s most important international relationship has been complicated by a bellicose American president unafraid of flinging personal insults, accusing a key neighbour of threatening national security and accusing Canadian farmers of taking advantage of unfair trading practices.

“We stayed strong because that’s what workers were asking … that’s what Canadians were saying,” Trudeau said. “These tariffs didn’t make sense around national security. They were hurting Canadian consumers, Canadian workers, and American workers and American consumers.

“We did make the commitment to work with the United States on watching how the industry is evolving and making sure that we’re not becoming victims of global pressures on our steel industry.”

Global Affairs Canada says the tariffs will be removed within two days, while Canada has also agreed to drop all of its retaliatory measures and legal actions against the U.S. at the World Trade Organization.

The deal prompted U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence to announce plans to meet with Trudeau in Ottawa May 30 in hopes of “advancing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as swiftly as possible.”

“This is WIN for all three nations,” Pence tweeted.  

Prior to speaking to journalists, Trudeau toured the Stelco facility and met workers to break the news directly to them first. He was joined by several cabinet ministers, including Freeland and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Word of the agreement began to trickle out Friday amid reports that U.S. negotiators had backed off long-standing demands for a hard limit on imports of Canadian steel and aluminum, part of an effort to keep cheap Chinese product out of the country.

Last May, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the tariffs were necessary to prevent a flood of cheap Chinese steel into the U.S. through its NAFTA partner countries, and conceded they were aimed at accelerating trade talks. Canada responded with dollar-for-dollar “countermeasures” on $16 billion worth of American imports.

The Commerce Department said Friday the resolution was good news for American farmers who had been hit with retaliatory tariffs from Canada.

“We have a great relationship with Canada and the prime minister — we have a great relationship, but they’ve been charging us extremely high tariffs,” Trump said, adding that he hoped Congress would approve the new trade pact quickly now that the tariffs were removed.

For some, however, the scars will linger.

Bruce Heyman, former president Barack Obama’s ambassador to Canada, said the decision is good news, but that Trump owes Canada an apology for the way it’s been treated.

“He is like the arsonist who lights the fire, puts it out and declares some kind of victory … like he’s the saviour,” Heyman said.

Trudeau offered a shout-out to Canadian unions for their support, and said it helped the government hold firm to U.S. demands that it submit to quotas before lifting the tariffs.

“Ending tariffs means Canadians can get back to work,” Hassan Yussuf, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said on Twitter.

The Trudeau government branded the tariffs as illegal, absurd and insulting, warning that Canada and Mexico would struggle to ratify new deal, which Trump has branded the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, with the levies still in place.

Ottawa has also been working to demonstrate to Washington that it has taken steps to stem the flow of cheaper Chinese metals into Canada. But Canada stood firm with the U.S. on one key, related point: it has steadfastly refused to agree to quotas or other limits on its exports to get the tariffs lifted.

The agreement says the U.S. and Canada will establish a process for monitoring steel and aluminum trade between them.

It says the two countries will consult if there’s a surge of steel or aluminum imports “beyond historic volumes of trade over a period of time” and gives the countries the right re-impose 25 per-cent duties on steel and 10-per cent on aluminum.

Toronto trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said it’s too soon to predict whether Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives will ratify the new North American trade pact.

“But it looks like some sense of sanity has prevailed in the White House at long last, helped along the way by huge pressure from the U.S. private sector that found these surcharges to be very hurtful.”

Mike Blanchfield and James McCarten, The Canadian Press




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Ethics commissioner ready to testify to committee today: NDP critic

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Mario Dion

OTTAWA — Ethics commissioner Mario Dion could testify to a parliamentary committee as early as Wednesday afternoon about his findings on the prime minister’s breach of the Conflict of Interest Act, the NDP’s Charlie Angus says.

But whether the House of Commons ethics committee moves ahead with the study of Dion’s report rests in the hands of the Liberal MPs who hold the majority of seats.

Dion had said he would make himself available to testify when MPs meet, but Angus said he spoke to the chair of the committee to ensure that would be an option.

Angus said Dion would likely appear by video conference.

“I am hoping, and I expect that, Mr. Dion will be able to provide testimony … and then we can finally get some clear answers,” Angus said.

Dion released a scathing report last week that concluded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau breached a section of the ethics code by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to end criminal proceedings on corruption charges against the Montreal engineering giant.

For his part, Trudeau has said he disagrees with, but accepts, Dion’s findings and was acting to protect Canadian jobs.

In his report, Dion also disclosed that he couldn’t get all the information he required, as potential witnesses and Trudeau’s office claimed cabinet confidence stopped from them from sharing everything they knew.

“This is a very important report, it is a very damning report and it also raises questions about the fundamental powers of the ethics commissioner in terms of the interference and obstruction that was laid in his path by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council,” Angus said.

Trudeau has shown a complete disregard for the rule of law, Angus added, noting that’s what got him into trouble: “He needs to really grow up and assume the role of prime minister here and not just a public figure who thinks he’s impervious to accountability.”

Conservatives and New Democrats pushed for the emergency committee meeting to be held early Wednesday afternoon. Agreeing to invite Dion to appear would mean keeping the SNC-Lavalin controversy in the headlines as MPs gear up for the Oct. 21 election.

On Wednesday morning, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated his call for the Liberals to put partisan interests ahead of their own and let the study proceed.  

“We will learn today whether or not scandal and corruption is limited to just the Liberal party’s leader in the form of Justin Trudeau, or whether or not this rot has infected the entire Liberal caucus and the entire Liberal party,” Scheer said at an event in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Scheer said that if the study fails to go ahead, he hopes to be able to convince voters to hold Trudeau accountable on voting day this October.

“We cannot have a lawmaker who is a lawbreaker.”

Trudeau has suggested voters want to move on.

A new poll suggests Dion’s report hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall, nor has it helped the Conservatives.

The Leger poll suggests the two parties were locked in a dead heat, with the support of 33 per cent of voters, as they jockey for position at the starting gate for the Oct. 21 vote.

Liberal support was unchanged from last month, despite Dion’s report, and Conservative support was down three percentage points from last month, despite the party’s best efforts to re-ignite public outrage over the affair.

The online survey of 1,535 eligible voters was conducted Aug. 16-19 for The Canadian Press and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada’s population; it cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

It is unhelpful to apply the frame of a political horse race to a question of the rule of law, Angus said.

“I’m less concerned about whether Mr. Trudeau is up one point or down one point,” he said. “My concern is if he interfered with a prosecution and we have to have some manner of accountability, whether it is him or for future prime ministers. Otherwise, we don’t have the rule of law in this country.”

The Canadian Press

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Country music star George Canyon to run for Tories in Nova Scotia

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George Canyon

OTTAWA — One of Nova Scotia’s best-known country music stars is walking on to the political stage.

George Canyon has announced he’s running as a Conservative candidate in the riding of Central Nova in the upcoming federal election.

His name was added to the Tory roster after existing candidate Roger MacKay dropped out this week, for what he said were “personal reasons.”

Canyon has won several Juno and Canadian Country Music Association awards for his work, and currently sings the national anthem at Calgary Flames games.

While his star is sure to add to the Conservative shine for this election, the riding is well acquainted with being a home for political stars.

Brian Mulroney ran from there to get a seat in the House of Commons after becoming leader of the Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s, and for over a decade it was home to Peter MacKay, who served as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May also attempted a run for the seat in 2008, but lost to MacKay.

He held the riding until stepping down ahead of the 2015 election, and the seat fell into the hands of Liberals as part of a red sweep of the Atlantic provinces.

But the Tories count Central Nova among the seats they intend to recapture this fall, thanks in part to what they say are candidates with strong ties to the area, including three local members of the Nova Scotia legislature.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has made multiple stops in the Atlantic provinces already this summer, and for his part, Canyon said he’s eager to get going.

“Over the next nine weeks, I’m going to wear the soles out of my boots as I work hard to show people here the type of representative and advocate I will be for them.”

The federal election takes place on Oct. 21.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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