Premier Doug Ford went on a business trip to Ohio declaring “I’m a big Republican” but taking U.S. President Donald Trump to task on trade.
Ford, who last year said there was “not a doubt in my mind” he would have voted for Trump, took aim at protectionist policies during a stop in Columbus, the state capital where he held a roundtable discussion with businesses and met with Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican.
“God bless the president and don’t get me wrong. Full disclosure: I’m a big Republican, I’m a supporter, conservative-minded and Jason’s probably more conservative than I am,” said the premier, who was appearing with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney before a business audience.
“But, you know, this protectionism, it’s just not going to work.”
Ford’s office later said the premier, who spent years working for his family’s printing company at its Chicago operation, is not a card-carrying Republican.
The premier repeated an earlier appeal for an end to “Buy America” policies that restrict Ontario companies from bidding on some government contracts, and said millions of jobs are at stake on both sides of the border. Buy American legislation forces large infrastructure and other projects that receive federal funding to have high levels of U.S. content or manufactured goods.
“We have to take this protectionism mentality, Buy America, away,” Ford added. “Canada is different than any other country. We’re your largest trading partner, we’re your closest ally, largest unprotected border in the world. Canadians look at the United States as their big brother.”
He pushed for an exemption for Ontario and said the U.S. with its “sheer economic power” and Canadian provinces with abundant natural resources would be stronger working together as a bloc to compete with India and China.
“When we work together, we’re unstoppable,” Ford said.
Two-way trade between Ontario and Ohio totalled $23.1 billion (U.S.) last year, with $6.9 billion of that in the automotive sector alone. That includes Ford Motor Co. plants in Cleveland and Lima that make engines for the Ford Edge, Flex and other vehicles assembled in Oakville, and Ford Motor’s Windsor plant that makes truck engines for the company’s Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake.
A Honda plant in Alliston, north of Toronto, makes engines for Accord sedans made in Marysville, OH., and a Honda plant in Anna, OH, exports engines to Alliston where another factory assembles Civics and CR-V models.
Ford also told a business audience hosted by the Ohio-Canada Business Association that Ontario is working to cut red tape.
“Nothing’s worse when a government is sitting there like the nanny state, telling you how to run your business, what you can do, what you can’t do,” said Ford, who is facing opposition from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for forcing gas stations to post stickers attacking the federal carbon tax.
“I think businesses are great stewards of their own industry. They’re held accountable by the people and the market.”
The CCLA has launched a court challenge of the stickers, which have been peeling off in a public relations fiasco for the provincial government, arguing they are “compelled political speech” which violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
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Ford also faced a warning from the three million-member U.S. Chamber of Commerce in June over his plan to unilaterally cancel a contract with the Beer Store to put beer in corner stores, outlawing compensation payments for the brewing companies involved.
The U.S. Chamber warned such a move would send “a negative signal…about the business and investment climate in Ontario” and undermine Ford’s “open for business” mantra.