Brian Mulroney draws an ace

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sees an ace where many other Canadians may only see a deuce.

The latest talks between current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump drew Mulroney’s praise this week.

“I think that the relationship that Prime Minister Trudeau has developed with President Trump is a very good one, one of the best of industrialized leaders in the world,” Mulroney told CTV Power Play host Don Martin on Tuesday. “How do I know that?

Because President Trump told me after some meetings with Prime Minister Trudeau. That is our ace-in-the-hole in many ways.”

But is it really? Was this a meeting to exploit that ace-in-the-hole or did it just look like a deuce – two leaders talking to each other about common problems.

It was only a few weeks ago that Canada launched a wide-ranging attack on the use of punitive duties by the Americans. The U.S. responded, calling the attack “broad and ill-advised.” (Financial Post, Jan. 10).

The complaint, filed in December, came just as the U.S. announced duties of up to nine per cent on Canadian paper and followed a series of similar penalties as the U.S. alleged unfair trade practices from Canada in the form of softwood lumber and Bombardier subsidies. Canada was in essence arguing that the American use of anti-dumping and countervailing duties violated global trade rules.

The argument is not a new one. It’s just one that seems to go away for a while then rear its ugly head whenever the U.S decides to flex its muscles.

The 32-page complaint cited dozens of examples unrelated to Canada, including 122 cases where the U.S. imposed duties on foreign countries.

The disputes over paper, lumber, aerospace and now trade in general were occurring just as the countries prepared for the NAFTA talks currently under way in Montreal.

Canada-U.S. trade lawyer Mark Warner said the complaints might have some merit, and Canada is well within its rights to complain to the WTO. But he questioned the strategic logic of antagonizing the Trump administration in the midst of NAFTA talks.

“This isn’t going to calm passions in Montreal,” Warner said. “It’s almost like Canada is fighting this on behalf of the international community…. I wonder why would you bring this complaint now.”

Warner was certainly right about his predictions on the NAFTA talks in Montreal. They aren’t going well at all. Just this week, The Toronto Star reported Canada has ceded ground in the ongoing talks but it has not ceded enough to satisfy Trump.

“If the federal Liberal government wants to keep a free-trade relationship with Washington, it will have to accept one that — in most cases — is markedly worse than the current NAFTA.”

But Trudeau would have some serious thinking to do before he could yield to the U.S. at the NAFTA negotiating table.

His approval rating dropped to 37 per cent last month, down from 43 per cent in 2016 (The Globe and Mail Jan. 14, 2018).

An article in Business Insider July 1 of last year seemed to predict that was coming and offered up some potential reasons for that decline.

“Trudeau has faced criticism for supporting oil pipeline expansion, going ahead with a controversial plan to supply military vehicles to Saudi Arabia, underfunding social services to Canada’s Aboriginal community, failing to fulfil his promises of electoral reform, and, last winter, taking a luxurious vacation on a billionaire’s private island.”

Now, it looks like we might be able to add NAFTA failures to the list. The Trudeau honeymoon with his voters has certainly come to an end.

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Jeff Wilkinson

About the Author: Jeff Wilkinson

Jeff Wilkinson  is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining  Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.

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