Premier Doug Ford says Ontario will keep pressure on the federal government to compensate industries that were thrown “under the bus” in the new trade deal with the United States and Mexico, but the province will not offer any financial aid.
“We’ll make sure that we hold the federal government accountable,” Ford said Monday in the legislature before he and other premiers were briefed on the pact to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.
If ratified by all three countries, the so-called USMCA deal would open Canada’s dairy industry to increased competition from south of the border, but won’t remove steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Canadian producers last spring.
“We’re concerned, too” Ford said under questioning from New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath on protections for Ontario businesses and workers. “We’re going to stand up for the farmers, along with the automotive industry, the aluminum industry and the steel industry.”
“While there’s no doubt that while many are breathing a sigh of relief about reaching a deal, there are many others who will be left behind,” Horwath said.
Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson said financial aid is the responsibility of the federal government.
“That’s why we went to Washington — to make it clear that if they did throw the farmers under the bus, they’d better pay the billions of dollars required to make our farmers whole again,” he said. “It’s not the Ontario taxpayer who should foot the bill for a federally negotiated agreement.”
Horwath accused the province of taking an “irresponsible” approach.
“They’re prepared to simply walk away and hope for the best when it comes to what the feds might be able to provide.”
After a federal briefing on the deal, Wilson said it is “astounding” officials in Ottawa could not say what the financial impacts on affected industries would be.
“There are thousands of family farms, dairy farms, in the province of Ontario and you can think that tonight every one of those farmers will be up, and their families will be up, worrying about what their future is,” he told reporters.
“They’ll probably have to give up some of their quota because the U.S. access to our dairy market will be increased significantly, and that means jobs, and that means food on the table for farmers.”
At a news conference in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “we’re going to compensate the dairy producers” but did not provide details.
Wilson noted both he and Ford went to Washington, where the final round of trade talks took place, to meet with Canadian negotiators and press Ontario’s case.
He said they were told “face to face that we get a NAFTA done, steel and aluminum tariffs will go away.”
“That was a big shock last night when Canada’s ambassador phoned me at about 10 o’clock and said they still remain, that’s a separate negotiation. That’s not what we were led to believe,” Wilson added.
He and Finance Minister Vic Fedeli did say, however, they were pleased that a deal has been reached, given the $389 billion in annual trade between Ontario and the U.S.
“On the positive side, it removes the uncertainty for many of our sectors, including the auto sector,” said Wilson.
“It has always been our position that a renegotiated trade deal is in the best interest of all parties. It’s critical to hundreds of thousands of jobs in Ontario,” Fedeli told MPPs.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the USMCA agreement will create continued opportunities.”
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1