Finance Minister Bill Morneau wasn’t exactly brimming with optimism on this weekend following a series of discussions focused on trade between U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“I can’t say that we’ve made progress,” acknowledged Morneau during an interview with Global News’ Mike Le Couteur from the G7 leaders’ meeting in Charlevoix, Que.
“But I think that we’ve clearly communicated our point of view to the president as well as the point of view from the other G7 countries.”
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The federal government is pulling out all the stops, Morneau added, in an effort to convince Trump that imposing steep tariffs on Canada’s aluminum and steel imports will only hurt U.S. consumers.
“Not only here (at the summit), but obviously with anybody that we can meet within the administration,” he said, adding that he’s been in regular contact with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and recently met with White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow.
Morneau also defended Ottawa’s decision to hold off on imposing its retaliatory tariffs until July 1, in spite of a push from Canada’s steel and aluminum producers to have them applied immediately.
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“We don’t want to shoot first and aim later,” Morneau explained. “This is the approach that we’ve taken, because we believe that it’s the right way to try and negotiate that come-down for (the Americans).”
That may be easier said than done. Trump’s arrival at the G7 on Friday came amidst the president’s latest barrage of trade-linked Twitter attacks against Canada. He’s also gone after Trudeau personally, accusing him of bring him “indignant” on Thursday and then “dishonest and weak” on Saturday.
Trump has repeatedly singled out Canada’s dairy sector, calling the supply management system unfair and promising to upend it and better support American farmers.
But by the time he and Trudeau sat down for their bilateral meeting on Friday evening, the president seemed to have mellowed, joking that Trudeau had agreed to cancel all retaliatory tariffs and trade barriers. But he again turned on Canada as soon as he left Quebec, and instructed American officials to pull his endorsement of the G7 leaders’ joint statement.
Morneau was also asked this weekend about the status of the construction on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which the government has agreed to back financially to the tune of $4.5 billion — to start.
“Literally the day we announced that, we got back to the table with all the firms that are intended to be doing that construction,” the minister said.
Morneau noted that he isn’t sure if there are actual shovels in the ground yet, but “this summer is seeing the work. If it’s not already started, it’s starting very shortly.”
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The long-term construction costs are still up in the air, however, and taxpayers could be on the hook for billions more. The $4.5 billion covers only the pipeline and core Canadian assets of Kinder Morgan related to the expansion project, including the terminal. Morneau said the government “looked at a range of construction costs in our due diligence to make sure that it was a good deal for Canadians.”
“That’s something that we’re not yet ready to talk about,” he said.
—Watch the full interview with Finance Minister Bill Morneau above.