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A chronology of Canada’s standoff with U.S. over steel, aluminum levies

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OTTAWA — Here is a timeline of key events in Canada’s dispute with the United States over NAFTA, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and American tariffs on steel and aluminum:

June 28, 2016: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump declares his antipathy for the North American Free Trade Agreement in a campaign speech in Pittsburgh, in the heart of a Rust Belt state that he would eventually win to secure the presidency. “NAFTA was the worst trade deal in history,” says Trump, pledging to renegotiate the pact “to get a better deal for our workers.” He promises to leave the agreement if Canada and Mexico refuse to bargain with him.

Aug. 16, 2017: Canada, Mexico and the United States begin the renegotiation of NAFTA in earnest. The Trump administration opens with a lecture, upping the ante from earlier remarks that it simply wants to “tweak” the deal. Trump’s trade czar Robert Lighthizer declares: “We feel that NAFTA has fundamentally failed many, many Americans and needs major improvement.”

October: The U.S. introduces so-called “poison pills” that Canada says it simply can’t accept. The U.S. wants to increase American content in automobiles, get rid of Canada’s supply-management system in agriculture, introduce a five-year sunset clause to force regular renegotiations, do away with a dispute-settlement mechanism and reduce Mexican and Canadian access to bidding on U.S. procurement projects. The three countries do eventually reach a new deal on autos, while the U.S. backs away from the other demands.

March 14, 2018: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada won’t be “bowled over” at the NAFTA talks by Trump. Trudeau makes the remarks while visiting steelworkers in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. “We’re standing up for ourselves. But we know there’s a win-win-win we can get to,” Trudeau says. “We’re pushing back on some things that we think might not be the right suggestions, which is what people would expect from Canada.”

May 31: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross declares that the Trump administration is making good on its threat to slap hefty tariffs on Canadian metals exports — 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum — on the grounds that foreign steel dependency poses a threat to American national security. However, Ross signals clearly the tariffs are linked to the trade talks: “As to Canada, Mexico, you will recall that the reason for the deferral (of tariffs) had been pending the outcome of the NAFTA talks,” he said. “Those talks are taking longer than we had hoped.”

June 7: Trump hurls a series of personal insults at Trudeau from Air Force One after a G7 summit in Quebec. The president calls Canada’s prime minister “dishonest” and “weak” after Trudeau repeats his objections to the steel and aluminum tariffs. The incident marks a new low in prime ministerial-presidential politics across the 49th parallel at a time when NAFTA negotiations remain deadlocked.

July 1: Canada imposes dollar-for-dollar tariff “countermeasures” of its own on up to $16.6 billion worth of imports of steel, aluminum and other products from the U.S. — everything from flat-rolled steel to playing cards and felt-tipped pens. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland calls the U.S. tariffs illegal and counterproductive; Trudeau calls it inconceivable that Canada could be seen as a national-security threat to the U.S.

Aug. 27: Mexico and the United States announce their own bilateral trade deal after weeks of negotiations that were supposed to be only about autos. Instead they negotiated a sweeping text covering the full scope of the trading relationship. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland blows up a trip to Europe and diverts to Washington, starting a month of intense negotiations to bring Canada into the NAFTA fold.

Sept. 20: Liberal government insiders indicate that as the NAFTA talks come down to the wire, the so-called Section 232 tariffs — so named for the obscure U.S. trade-law provision under which they were imposed — remain a major sticking point. Some observers suggest negotiating the tariff dispute separately would mean a shorter path to a deal.

Sept. 26: Trump strikes again, this time at the UN General Assembly: “Frankly, we’re thinking about just taxing cars coming in from Canada,” he says when asked about the stalled talks. “We’re very unhappy with the negotiations and the negotiating style of Canada,” he continues, adding, “We don’t like their representative very much” — a reference to Freeland.  

Sept. 30: Staring down a midnight deadline to provide a text of an agreement to Congress, Trump’s and Trudeau’s team work out last-minute details that bring Canada into a renewed continental trade pact. Trudeau leaves the Prime Minister’s Office after a late-night cabinet meeting and says six words: “It’s a good day for Canada.”

Oct. 19: Liberal government officials make it clear Canada will not accept any sort of a quota restriction on steel and aluminum exports to the U.S. in exchange for lifting the tariffs. Meanwhile, Mexican officials fuel speculation that the U.S. plans to lift the tariffs once the new agreement is signed during a G20 summit in Argentina.

Nov. 30: Trump, Trudeau and outgoing Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto sign the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, at the summit but there is no sign of movement on tariffs.

Jan. 30, 2019: Kevin Brady, the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee (its senior member from the minority Republicans), sends the first clear signal that the tariffs could be a problem for both Democrats and Republicans when it comes to ratifying the new trade deal. “They’re not really willing to consider this agreement until the steel and aluminum tariffs are ensured to be lifted off, including quotas,” Brady tells a trade conference in Washington.

Feb. 21: David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., declares publicly that he’s confident the tariffs will be lifted “in the next few weeks” — comments he later acknowledges were aimed at lighting a fire under recalcitrant U.S. negotiators. Later that same week, Transport Minister Marc Garneau tells a gathering of governors in the U.S. capital that Canada would struggle to ratify the agreement with the tariffs still in place. “I got the message loud and clear,” responds Larry Kudlow, Trump’s senior economic adviser.

May 17: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suddenly adds a trip to a Stelco plant in Hamilton, Ont., to his schedule. He confirms reports that an agreement on tariffs has been reached and that the levies will be gone within 48 hours. “This decision reflects what is known to be true by friends on both sides of the border,” Trudeau says. “Canada has been America’s most steadfast ally for more than 100 years, and our long-standing partnership and closely linked economies make us more competitive around the world and improve our combined security.”

The Canadian Press

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Manitoba wants to attract Quebec civil servants worried about clothing law

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Manitoba wants to attract Quebec civil servants

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is planning to recruit civil servants from Quebec who are concerned about a new law in the province banning religious symbols at work.

Manitoba has a shortage of bilingual civil servants, Premier Brian Pallister says, and will send letters to Quebec professional organizations, colleges and other entities to invite public-sector workers to move west.

“We think that there may be people in Quebec right now who want to come to a province where we don’t have clothing police, where their freedoms will be respected and their rights will be respected,” Pallister said Thursday.

The Quebec ban on religious symbols in the workplace applies only to some people in the civil service in positions of authority, including judges, police officers, court clerks and public school teachers.

Pallister’s office says the Manitoba recruitment effort will target a range of public workers in areas such as education, health care, social services and agriculture.

Critics say it unfairly targets Muslims, Sikhs and other religious minorities. Quebec Premier Francois Legault has said the law helps ensure secularism in the workplace and is supported by a majority of Quebecers.

Pallister raised his opposition to the law at a meeting of Canada’s premiers in Saskatoon earlier this month, although it was not part of the formal agenda and was not included in the communique issued by the premiers after the meeting.

Pallister said the letter to Quebec organizations will be finalized soon and will be made available publicly.

“I’m not trying to hide the fact that I disagree with Bill 21, and I’m not going to try to hide the fact that we’re going to use the threat of it to serve the needs of the people of Manitoba, and to give opportunity to people who feel at all concerned about that particular bill,” he said.

The Quebec law was a campaign promise by Legault and took effect last month. It is being challenged in court by a national Muslim organization and a civil liberties group.

A Quebec Superior Court judge rejected their application Thursday to suspend the law until the court case can be heard.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press


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Appeal for calm as tensions mount in Oka over land transfer to Kanesatake

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Tensions mount in OKA over land transfer to Kanasatake

MONTREAL — There were appeals for calm Thursday amid steadily mounting tension in Oka, Que., over a private developer’s plan to return land to the Mohawks of Kanesatake.

Hundreds packed a church Wednesday night in the community, about 90 kilometres northwest of Montreal, to discuss the return of a pine forest central to the 1990 Oka crisis as part of a federal ecological donation to the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake.

The meeting was convened by Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon, who said he was caught off guard by land developer Gregoire Gollin’s intention to donate the 60 hectares known as The Pines last month, ensuring its preservation.

Gollin said he acted in the spirit of reconciliation when he signed the agreement, and was also prepared to discuss the sale of an additional 150 hectares he owns to the federal government to transfer to the Mohawk community — nearly half of which he said is adjacent to land owned by Kanesatake.

Quevillon said he is concerned about Oka becoming “surrounded” by the Mohawk territory, and worried about property values. He implored the federal government to take the town’s concerns into consideration.

He said the adjacent Mohawk community has illegal dumps and numerous cannabis and cigarette merchants — things the village of Oka doesn’t want to see expanded.

“My comments are the reality — I would like to tell you otherwise but it’s the reality in Kanesatake,” Quevillon said.

Quevillon stressed he doesn’t want another Oka crisis but said he fears one could be triggered — this time led by Oka residents worried about encroachment.

“We don’t wish it, but if there is another one, it won’t come from the residents of Kanesatake because it’s the residents of Oka and their rights that are impacted,” Quevillon said.

Speaking to reporters in Montreal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he felt the mayor’s comments about being surrounded “lacked the necessary respect and understanding that is key to true reconciliation.”

“Reconciliation is extremely important for Canada and Canadians, that means overcoming difficult challenges, some loaded with historical significance,” Trudeau said.

“We know that the only way forward is through respectful partnership and dialogue and we certainly hope that all parties in Oka will engage in that respectful and constructive dialogue to allow us to move forward for the benefit of all.”

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon said tensions with Oka’s leadership have worsened in recent months and he has sought intermediaries like the provincial government to help.

“There’s always been an underlying tension,” Simon said. “There’s always been the ghost of 1990 and a mistrust of each other.”

But Simon took particular issue with the idea that the repatriation of lands would result in a drop in properly values, calling the mayor’s remarks racist.

He also called the notion of invoking another Oka crisis inflammatory, given the historical precedent.

“It’s irresponsible of him knowing damn well what happened and how it happened (in 1990) and he’s following in the same footsteps,” Simon said. “He’s knowingly fomenting a crisis.”

“(It’s) dangerous, very dangerous,” Simon added. “My community, we don’t want to live through something like that again … people back home aren’t afraid to fight, but it comes at a heavy price.”

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador called Thursday for calm, noting the mayor’s comments are reminiscent of how tensions sparked between the Mohawk nation and Quebec some 29 years ago this summer.

Grand Chief Ghislain Picard said the priority is finding a way to talk.

“I certainly feel confident we’ll come to a resolution,” Picard said. “This obviously lies with the capacity of both Oka and Kanesatake to find a common space to engage in a constructive dialogue.”

Also Thursday, Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Sylvie D’Amours vowed to work with all sides, even though land claims are federal jurisdiction.

“In order to preserve social peace and ensure the safety of all, Minister D’Amours has been intensifying exchanges with the federal government, the mayor of Oka and the grand chief of Kanesatake for months,” spokeswoman Nadine Gros-Louis said in an email. “It is essential that the dialogue be open and positive.”

The donated land is part of lands central to the Oka crisis which began July 11, 1990.

Gunfire erupted between provincial police and Aboriginals defending a small stand of pine trees from the expansion of a golf course, resulting in the death of officer Marcel Lemay and sparking a 78-day showdown.

At the end of it, a deal was struck to bring down barricades in exchange for cancelling the expansion.

Simon said his own community held a meeting about the ecological gift and raised concerns about a gift of land that belongs to them. But he said it was a way to cut through red tape and keep the lands free from development, noting that part of the forest in question includes a wetland.

As for other future developments, Simon said Oka would be able to invest in projects that would be of use to both communities, like an arena for example, which could promote reconciliation through sport.

“We just need to find a way to work in harmony with our neighbours and promote more co-operation, peace and equality,” Simon said.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press



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