The House of Commons is running out of time to ratify the new version of NAFTA. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Parliament Hill, not Capitol Hill, central to Canada’s latest tariff strategy

WASHINGTON — Canada’s trade-versus-tariffs drama with the United States has entered its third act, and the scenery has changed — from Capitol Hill to Parliament Hill.

For months, the iconic silhouette of the U.S. Congress has been a fitting and familiar backdrop for marathon Canadian lobbying efforts on two fronts: ending President Donald Trump’s levies on steel and aluminum from north of the border and ratifying the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Now, those two storylines are on a collision course — not in Washington but in Ottawa, which is what U.S. Ambassador David MacNaughton was hoping to gently point out Thursday when he suddenly predicted that an end to the tariff standoff was only weeks away.

“What I was trying to do was say to them, ‘We’re running out of time here,’ without being threatening,” MacNaughton said in an interview.

“I think what they’re hearing — from the business community, from Congress on both sides of the aisle — is that these tariffs are an impediment to the enthusiastic support from a variety of people, not the least of which is Canada.”

Both the current sitting and session of Parliament end in June, and MPs won’t return until after the federal election in October. That means the House of Commons is running out of time to ratify the new version of NAFTA.

And as the federal Liberal government’s most non-threatening cabinet minister, Marc Garneau, told Trump’s economic lieutenant Larry Kudlow on Sunday in front of an audience of U.S. governors and lawmakers, it will be a tough sell, even in Canada, if the tariffs are still in place.

“I don’t know if we’re going to get there,” Garneau said.

“I’m making a plea here to the governors. I’m making a plea here that you bring up with the president of the United States the fact that these tariffs are a serious impediment to us moving forward on what is the best trade deal in the world.”

The message wasn’t lost on Kudlow, who later joked that the minister “mentioned it 13 times” during their 45-minute panel discussion.

“I acknowledged that he’s correct, and that we’re working on that, and I believe he knows that,” Kudlow said. “We’re negotiating for a vote in Congress, and we’re negotiating with our friends in Canada and Mexico on that subject.”

But who, exactly, is at the table? Who signs off?

“That’s a really good question, and it’s not clear at this point,” said Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer and Canada-U.S. specialist in Columbus, Ohio, who has been following every twist and turn in the never-ending saga.

Recall, Ujczo noted, that back in early November prior to the signing of the agreement in Argentina, Mexico believed it had obtained a commitment from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to get the tariffs lifted, only to later learn otherwise.

“One person rejected that offer, and that’s President Trump. So I think at the end of the day, we can convince as many members of Congress and members of the administration as we want, but it’s going to come down to one person making that decision, and that’s who’s heading these negotiations.”

Kudlow all but acknowledged Sunday that Trump’s bid to secure a sprawling trade deal with China — which is nearing a positive conclusion, judging from the president’s Twitter feed — is why Canada, Mexico and the European Union are still dealing with tariffs. The president, he suggested, doesn’t want to be “flicking switches on and off” at such a critical juncture.

Ujczo said he also believes the tariffs give the White House leverage with recalcitrant members of Congress who don’t support the trade deal, in part because of what they consider a lack of enforcement teeth for its labour and environmental provisions.

MacNaughton isn’t so sure about that, so he’s trying to train the spotlight on the legislative process in Canada, where a bill to ratify the deal would have to be tabled by mid-March in order to be passed in time for the summer recess.

“Things happen when it’s in everybody’s interest to make it happen,” he said. “There’s pressure on all sides at the present moment. Whether or not we can actually get to a deal, I don’t know, but it’s not going to get any easier as time goes on.”

Just Posted

Woman killed in collision west of Rocky Mountain House

A 42-year-old woman is dead after a two-vehicle collision in Clearwater County… Continue reading

Rough camper “tree house” found hidden in Red Deer woods

“This took a bit of work,” says man who discovered it

Central Alberta has one less peacekeeper with death of Nobel Prize-winning vet

The late Wayne Coubrough and Wayne Bevis helped diffuse tensions in the Middle East

TC Energy applauds Nebraska court victory over opponents of Keystone XL pipeline

CALGARY — One of the last major hurdles for the Keystone XL… Continue reading

Tribunal rules Edmonton pharmacist harmed integrity of profession

EDMONTON — An Edmonton pharmacist has been found guilty of unprofessional conduct… Continue reading

WATCH: Trailer stolen from Red Deer deli

A Red Deer business has contacted police after a trailer was stolen… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Thursday The Red Deer and District Garden Club hosts its annual Flower… Continue reading

Alberta loses extra-innings thriller at men’s baseball nationals

Alberta came up just short in their second game at the Baseball… Continue reading

G7 leaders should step up own climate plans to help the Amazon, Greenpeace says

OTTAWA — Some Canadian environment groups are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau… Continue reading

Third-party buys billboard to promote Bernier’s anti-mass immigration stance

OTTAWA — Billboards with Maxime Bernier’s face and a slogan advocating against… Continue reading

Ottawa ready to pass law forcing CN to restore rusting Quebec Bridge

Ottawa says its ready to take ownership of the aging Quebec Bridge… Continue reading

TC Energy applauds Nebraska court victory over opponents of Keystone XL pipeline

CALGARY — One of the last major hurdles for the Keystone XL… Continue reading

‘Our bigger enemy’: Trump escalates attack on Fed chief

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump launched a furious and highly personal attack… Continue reading

Ontario shipyard accuses feds of unfairly stacking deck in Davie’s favour

OTTAWA — An Ontario shipyard is accusing the federal government of trying… Continue reading

Most Read