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Ontario ‘will not blink’ in face of Buy America policies, says Wynne

Ontario “will not blink” when it comes to fighting unfair Buy America policies, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Wednesday as debate on the Liberals’ new legislation to combat protectionist policies in U.S. states was delayed.

“I have been a consistent and ardent champion of free and fair trade, and open and competitive government procurement practices,” she said in the legislature.

“We in Ontario know that open borders and cooperation with our neighbours make us more competitive, and when we are more competitive, we can create more good jobs for our workers. Everyone on this side of the House would have preferred for it not to come to this, but in the face of unfair discrimination we will not blink.”

She said Bill 194, the Fairness in Procurement Act, “is about standing up for Ontario workers,” and blamed the opposition for slowing down the process and pushing debate on it into next month.

Wynne noted that last year, the government successfully fought off a proposal in New York State that would have enshrined Buy American rules for public contracts.

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“We told them at that time that Buy American flies in the face of our partnership,” Wynne said. “That it would undermine the competitiveness of our region, harm our workers and their families. And we said in no uncertain terms that if New York State proceeded down this protectionist path, we would have no choice but to protect our workers by responding in kind.”

Of concern, she added, is the “tide of protectionist sentiment rising across America,” noting a similar bill has been brought back before New York legislators to ban Ontario goods and services for public projects of more than $ 1 million. Texas also has Buy-American provisions for some sectors.

“We must send a strong message that we will not stand for protectionist measures that disadvantage Ontario companies,” Wynne said, adding the province “must make clear that discrimination against Ontario workers can’t be cost-free.”

The bill would allow the province to enact similar policies excluding U.S. businesses from supplying goods and services for public projects here to “level the playing field,” Wynne said.

And, should that happen, “the impact of these regulations on U.S. businesses will clearly demonstrate the value that is created on both sides of the border by fair and open procurement processes,” she added.

“In 2015-2016, the Ontario government awarded more than 77 New York-based businesses with contracts worth almost $ 160 million. In a fair and free market, that is how it should work.”

Dennis Darby, president of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said many companies in North America “operate on both sides of the border” and that protectionist policies “undermine the integrity” of the longstanding trade relationship.

“It’s regrettable that this piece of legislation has to be put through … the whole goal is to create an environment where we get rid of all the protectionist policies,” he said.

However, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce is worried about “any approach that risks escalation of trade barriers, especially when it is taken only by Ontario,” said president Rocco Rossi. “No other province in Canada has legislation in place that would escalate trade sanctions when they occur.”

The chamber “believes that the best approach for Ontario is the formation of positive bilateral cooperation with our American neighbours. We applaud the premier and her government for taking this approach to date and we must continue to do so.”

Wynne heads back to Washington on Thursday for a meeting of the National Governors Association, where she will continue to promote Ontario-U.S. trade and the benefits for both sides. Some $ 400 billion of trade is conducted between Ontario and the U.S. each year, and Ontario is the biggest customer of more than half of all American states.