Ottawa fires back at Ford over USMCA grousing

Put a sock in it, Doug.

That’s the message from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to Doug Ford in the wake of the premier’s grousing about Ontario being hurt by the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade deal.

The federal Liberals are striking back at Ford over his charge that Ottawa “left out” key sectors in the new USMCA.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc has taken the unusual step of publicly reminding the premier of his position during the contentious trade talks.

“Premier Ford fully supported Canada’s NAFTA negotiating position, both in public and in private,” LeBlanc told the Star on Friday.

“Just days before the deal was concluded, the premier was briefed in detail in Washington, D.C., including about the modest changes to the supply management sector,” the minister said, referring to concessions that give U.S. dairy farmers access to about 3.6 per cent of the Canadian market.

“The premier left that meeting and said publicly what he told us behind closed doors, that he stands ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with Canada’s negotiators. His … minister (Jim Wilson) even pleaded with us to get to a deal at any cost,” he said.

Ottawa is blasting Ford — who, associates say, has future national political ambitions — after he escalated his rhetorical attacks on Trudeau this week.

At a campaign rally Tuesday to mark his first 100 days in office, the premier lambasted the Prime Minister.

“The new deal leaves too many Ontario families and businesses out in the cold. The Trudeau Liberals left out Ontario farmers, they left out Ontario’s steelworkers and aluminum workers,” Ford told about 600 supporters in Etobicoke.

“They used Ontario jobs as a bargaining chip and Justin Trudeau is out there taking a victory lap without giving honest answers about … what he will do for the people he’s left behind,” he said.

“My message to the farmers, to the steelworkers, to the aluminum workers, to all of the business and workers in Ontario is this: Justin Trudeau may have forgotten about you, the Liberals may have forgotten about you, but we will never, ever forget about you.”

But an internal memo sent from Queen’s Park to Ottawa after Ford’s June 7 election indicates the two government were always on the same page.

“Ontario is supportive of Canada’s approach to the steel and aluminum tariffs issue and will continue to work with Canada on a consistent approach between both levels of government going forward,” said the provincial missive marked “confidential.”

LeBlanc stressed the USMCA is “a good deal for the hundreds of thousands of Ontarians who work in manufacturing, especially the auto sector.”

“It safeguards more than $2 billion a day in cross-border trade and tariff-free access that supports Ontario jobs,” the federal minister said.

Simon Jefferies, the premier’s press secretary, said Ford was a team player throughout the talks, but “the more we study this deal, the more concerned we are that the federal government threw hard-working Ontario farmers, and steel and aluminum workers under the bus.”

“Premier Ford did his part by connecting directly with the governors of Ontario’s largest trading partners to promote free trade and highlight the importance of our trading relationships,” Jefferies said Friday.

“While our government was relieved that a deal was reached, we have a number of questions (that) the federal government (has) been unable to answer in a briefing call and in followup letters,” the aide said.

“We remain highly concerned of the impact on supply-managed agriculture sectors and the compensation that will be provided for affected industries,” he said.

“We also have unanswered questions on the ability of Canada to negotiate future trade agreements, and the engagement plan with the U.S. to ensure tariffs are lifted on steel and aluminum.”

Despite being a newcomer on the national scene, Ford is already touted as a potential successor to little-known federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer if the Trudeau Liberals are re-elected next year.

The premier has privately joked that his bid to stop Trudeau’s carbon-pricing scheme better not be too successful because it could be a useful issue in a future federal election campaign.

“Everyone knows we’ve taken Kathleen Wynne’s hands out of your pocket,” he said Tuesday of the former Liberal premier he defeated last spring.

“Now, we all have a bigger job. But I promise you one thing: we’re going to take Justin Trudeau’s hands out of your pockets.”

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie


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