Well here’s a shock.
U.S. President Donald Trump has been boasting that he intends to make Canada sign a new trade deal entirely on the terms he’s dictated. If Canada won’t sign? Well, he’ll impose punitive tariffs on cars assembled in Canada.
I know. You’re astonished. Let me lend you my smelling salts.
In a strange news scoop Friday morning, the Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent Daniel Dale reported on the snarky comments Trump had made about Canada during an off-the-record conversation with Bloomberg News.
Somehow — and here’s where the story gets murky — Dale found out about what Trump had said. And since Dale hadn’t been bound by any off-the-record agreement? Well, he reported the story. But not before sharing Trump’s remarks with Canadian trade negotiators.
Any doubts one might have had about the validity of Dale’s anonymous source disappeared a few hours later when the president himself confirmed the gist of Dale’s story on Twitter.
“Wow, I made OFF THE RECORD COMMENTS to Bloomberg concerning Canada, and this powerful understanding was BLATANTLY VIOLATED,” he wrote. “Oh well, just more dishonest reporting. I am used to it. At least Canada knows where I stand!”
Well. yes. Not that Canada ever had much doubt.
Small wonder efforts of getting some kind of preliminary agreement in place by the end of Friday’s Trump-imposed deadline went right off the rails.
Here in Alberta, where we don’t have a huge dairy sector and where we don’t build cars, the immediate issues on the NAFTA bargaining table might not seem top of mind — especially when we’re still reeling from the very real shock of Thursday’s ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal putting a halt, at least temporarily, on construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
And yes. Many Albertans — only seven per cent of whom oppose the pipeline — are angry and frustrated.
But with Canada’s trading relations with its largest market in peril, this is not the time to start indulging in separatist fantasies, or wallowing in western alienation.
Rarely has there been a more urgent moment for Canadians to stand together in defence of our national economic interests.
Thursday evening, Premier Rachel Notley, summoning her best Churchillian rhetoric, delivered a live address defending the right of landlocked Albertans to get their most valuable resource to market.
It was a stirring performance, one that surely would have made that anti-National Energy Program warrior Peter Lougheed proud.
But Notley’s most canny rhetorical strategy was to frame the argument, to position the United States — not Ottawa nor British Columbia or the First Nations — as the real bad guy. She went out of her way to stress how vulnerable Canada is, as long as we can only sell our oil to or through the U.S.
“As a result, our ability to transport our most profitable commodity is subject to the whims of the White House and the U.S. government,” Notley said.
Her warnings about allowing ourselves to be hostage to American political and economic interests isn’t just rhetorical flourish.
In a moment when Trans Mountain looks hopeless, it’s easy to blame “Confederation” or “the Constitution” for our mess. But dependant as we are on the protectionist whimsy and personal animus of Donald Trump, this is the worst possible time for us to devolve into civil or factional sniping.
To get this pipeline done, Alberta needs to retain the endorsement of the majority of British Columbians who already support Trans Mountain.
More importantly, Alberta needs the validation of all the First Nations who do support it, especially those so committed they’re willing to invest in the project.
After so many years of negotiations and hearings and court cases, it’s maddening that we still haven’t got this right. And both the Harper and the Trudeau governments bear responsibility for that. Goodness knows, we have to find a better mechanism to approve major national infrastructure projects, a system that allows for balanced environmental review and meaningful input from First Nations, but which also provides security and stability to companies and governments who are trying to get things built.
We have to get our collective act together. We have to be able to act, as a nation, to get our goods to market. Otherwise, we’ll forever be beholden to one unreliable trading partner, having turned ourselves into a de facto landlocked colony of the American empire.
This week’s news isn’t proof that Confederation doesn’t work. It is proof we need to work harder. If we don’t, the economic and social consequences will ripple for generations.