The issue has become all the more urgent given Bombardier’s announcement that it plans to lay off half of its workforce — or 550 employees — at its Thunder Bay railcar facility, which its president has blamed on American protectionist policies.
“We have to make sure we protect our interests, similar to what the Americans are doing, south of the border,” Ford said. “We do, right now, $390 billion (Cdn) of two-way trade — Ontario alone.”
On Wednesday, he said Buy America is “killing” Canadian businesses as contracts in the United States dry up.
The country’s 13 provincial and territorial leaders, who have been in Saskatchewan since Tuesday for the annual summer meeting of the Council of the Federation, are a “large group of new premiers, and we just seem to be hitting it off — all of us,” Ford said. “And it’s going to be a very strong voice moving the provinces forward.”
The premiers are also publicly pressuring the federal government to be tougher with the U.S. on Buy America legislation, which forces large infrastructure and airline projects that receive federal funding to have high levels of U.S. content or manufactured goods.
On Wednesday, federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu told the Star’s Tonda MacCharles that “our government has repeatedly and aggressively pushed back against U.S. trade barriers, including Buy America provisions.”
Ford, she added, “is welcome to join us in Washington to help make the case” but said he first “needs to get to work” helping Thunder Bay workers.
The Ontario government has “bumped up” its $139 million order for 36 trains with Bombardier, Ford said, “and we are going to continue reviewing it. We’ll see what else we can funnel through the system, sooner rather than later.”
He has also said the province has been waiting for Ottawa to move on its share of his government’s new $28.5 billion transit plan — though that project is years away and Bombardier would still have to bid for the work.
Ford said “my main goal is to secure the jobs, but not just for the short period but long-term. It’s not just Bombardier, it’s other companies that we have to secure here.”
On interprovincial trade, while Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was quick to announce he’d drop half of its exemptions that limit trade, Ford is taking a slower approach.
“We are making tremendous progress on trade” around the table at the premiers’ meeting, Ford said. “We seem to be moving a lot quicker than we did last year” when the federation meeting was held in New Brunswick.
“We’re going to take a look at” something similar to Alberta’s move, Ford said. “We are the largest province so I guess everyone wants a piece of Ontario. But I’m all about fair and free trade.”
With economists forecasting a bump in the GDP if provincial trade barriers were removed, “that’s anywhere from $50 billion to over $100 billion,” Ford said. “It’s even better than the USMCA deal,” he said, referring to the renegotiated NAFTA deal.
“We’ve made tremendous progress on internal trade and we want to knock down as many barriers as possible. But I do have to protect certain stakeholders in Ontario.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told the Star Wednesday the premiers shouldn’t wait around for Ottawa to act — they could agree “right now” to ensure Canadian companies and workers are protected.
“When they are handing out public infrastructure dollars … these kinds of requirements are built in,” she said. “Each premier needs to stand up to the plate as well.”
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy