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OTTAWA—As a Canada-U.S. trade dispute threatens to grow nastier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is encouraging Canadians to travel and spend at home though he stopped just shy of urging a boycott of American goods and destinations.
Asked by reporters how Canadians should respond to the ongoing trade actions of the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump, and whether they should boycott U.S. products and travel spots this summer, Trudeau said it’s up to individuals.
When the Liberal government announced its $ 16-billion list last month of dollar-for-dollar retaliatory tariffs to push back at Trump’s 25 per cent tariff on Canadian steel and 10 per cent tariff on aluminum, it ensured there would be “readily available” Canadian substitutes, or products from countries that do not face tariffs, for consumers to choose from, he said.
“As for Canadians, I’m always one to encourage Canadians to discover our extraordinary country, to take vacations here at home, to continue to ‘Buy Canadian’ and, if Canadians are looking for extra reasons to do so, then so be it.
“But I think it is important for Canadians to make their own choices about how they want to spend their money.”
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At a news conference to mark the end of a heated spring sitting of Parliament, which saw the Liberals’ public approval ratings slide and Trudeau’s party lose its first byelection since taking power, the prime minister acknowledged that he has not spoken personally to Trump since the G7 meeting on June 9 when Trump left the Charlevoix summit only to explode in anger at Trudeau later.
Trudeau said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has met her counterpart, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Trudeau said the next time he and Trump would likely see each other is the NATO summit scheduled for July 11 to 12 in Brussels.
Trump has also threatened to levy 25 per cent tariffs on foreign imports of cars, light trucks and auto parts — also in the name of national security — a measure that would hit his trading allies Canada, the EU and Japan, along with trade adversaries like China.
Asked if he views Trump’s auto tariff threat as a mere negotiating tactic to reach a NAFTA deal, Trudeau said, “one of the things we’ve seen from the president is that he prides himself on a certain degree of unpredictability.”
“I have to continue to believe that leaders will function in the interests of their own country. And I have a hard time accepting that any leader might do the kind of damage to his own auto industry that would happen if you were to bring in such a tariff on Canadian auto manufacturers given the integration of the parts supply chains, of the auto supply chains through the Canada-U.S. border.”
Trump withdrew his signature from the G7 joint declaration two weeks ago, angered by Trudeau’s closing statement that he had advised Trump that Canada would proceed “with regret” to impose counter-tariffs on U.S. goods and “would not be pushed around.” Trump retorted that there would be a price to pay.
Asked why he believes Trump has put Canada, and Trudeau personally, in his crosshairs, Trudeau declined to speculate.
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“I’m not in a position to opine on motivations of the president. I’m going to stay focused on the relationship that we’re building, on defending Canada’s interests, on looking for ways to further push the benefits of improving and modernizing NAFTA … in all three of our countries.”
The brouhaha and insult to national pride resulted in a recent public opinion boost for Trudeau, but it wasn’t enough to win the Chicoutimi-Le Fjord byelection Monday, snatched by the Conservatives. Trudeau said said it is “too early” to draw any conclusions for the October 2019 federal election.
The election of Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives in Ontario heralds what could be other challenges looming for Trudeau with possible political changes in Alberta, Quebec and New Brunswick.
Trudeau said he is prepared to work “collaboratively” with all premiers including Ford. But Ottawa and Queen’s Park are already on a collision course over the issue of a carbon tax.
Ford has declared that his government’s first act will be to cancel Ontario’s cap-and-trade system and challenge Ottawa’s authority to impose a carbon tax.
The prime minister called Ford’s decision “unfortunate” but made clear his intention to move ahead with Ottawa’s plan to impose a federal carbon tax on any province that doesn’t have a “sufficiently ambitious plan.” But he stressed that all the money would be “directly returned” to Ontario residents.