Justin Trudeau, in a bizarre performance at the final press conference of the G-7 conference, managed to thoroughly piss off Donald Trump. To the point that Trump called him dishonest.
Now the Donald is going to be occupied with North Korea for the next few days and, at a guess, having withdrawn America’s consent to the G-7 communique may simply forget Trudeau’s deeply cowardly remarks. (It is cowardly to say things about a person when they have left the building when you had the opportunity to say them to that person’s face.) That is the best Trudeau can hope for. More likely, Trump will have detailed a hard man in a suit to run the numbers on Canada’s trade with the US and find out just how many cars we send south every year. These are not hard answers to find and when those numbers go back to Trump there is very little to stop him from dropping a 25% tariff on those cars.
I said over at Kate’s that the Americans see trade negotiations as business, the Canadians see them as politics.
From a business perspective, a 25% tariff on cars made in Canada will lead to more cars being made in the US. The transition will be a bit uncomfortable for a number of large US companies but in the overall American economy, it will be a blip.
In Canada? In Canada, more specifically Ontario, the destruction of the auto industry would be a full scale, all hands on deck, disaster. Realistically, the auto sector is Ontario’s largest private sector employer and the largest manufacturing sector. Being priced out of the US market would kill tens of thousands of well-paid jobs.
Trump has taken the measure of Trudeau and his tiny, annoying, Minister of External Affairs, Chrystia Freeland and concluded they are featherweights. Which means that Canada is potentially screwed because Trump has no faith in our leadership. You don’t call people dishonest publically if you plan to do business with them.
It is unlikely that Trudeau will be aware of just how badly he has failed for a few days. The Canadian media are heavily invested in a narrative which has Justin standing up to the big, bad, Trump. Trudeau’s tone-deaf advisors are, no doubt, revelling in the fact they got lots of “gender” language into the communique.
It will take a few days for the more sober side of the media to realize what peril Trudeau has put us in. And a few more for the geniuses in the PMO to figure out that Trump is not playing the same game as they are.
When they do figure it out the question will arise, “What the fuck do we do now?”
As I am quite sure Butz and his posse read this blog I have a simple suggestion.
Normally, I would have suggested they get in touch with Simon Reisman who negotiated both the Auto-Pac and NAFTA. Alas, Reisman is dead.
Second best by a long shot? Brian Mulroney. A man I have next to no time for but who a) managed to get Canadians onboard for NAFTA, b) was a quite successful Canadian Prime Minister, c) is wired into both Trump World and broad swaths of corporate America.
If Trudeau could get Mulroney to do it Mulroney would be going into the US with a serious, well thought out, everything on the table, pitch. Likely starting with first principles – no tariffs, no subsidies, no non-tariff barriers. Be prepared to dump dairy and end transhipment of Chinese steel. And pitch it to the Trump people as the template for the deals which could be made with the EU, Japan, India and so on. (China is a whole other thing.)
The key point here is that Canada has to move, and move quickly, away from the finger-wagging politics of gender inclusion and climate change to a hard-nosed business approach to getting the best deal we can with an America which is now willing to put its own interests first.
Our leverage is that, while Trump is perfectly willing to talk tough, he also seems to like having a few friends. Canada, notwithstanding our dolt of a PM, has been and could be the staunch friend Trump needs.
Mulroney might just be able to pull this off. Here’s why:
[Back story: Peter Newman released a set of transcripts of Mulroney “unbuttoned” without Mulroney’s consent.]