Last weekend, International Trade Minister Stockwell Day was the guest on a new feature that's being jointly produced by Canwest News Service and Global National. It's called In Person and, each week, Global Bureau Chief Jacques Bourbeau and Canwest News Service Politics Editor Mark Kennedy will grab a beat reporter for an in-depth interview with a top Ottawa official, usually a cabinet minister. You'll be able to watch a video excerpt of this interview and read a news story out of this interview at our Web sites or in one of newspapers.
Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan was this weekend's In Person subject. My colleague Janice Tibbetts is the beat reporter on the justice file so she joined Jacques and Mark to interview Van Loan. Day, as I mentioned, is part of my reporting responsibilities. Here's an edited transcript of that interview.
Bourbeau got it started by asking if Day was encouraged by what he heard from President Barack Obama (who had visited the day before) when it came to preserving access to the American market:
The Hon. Stockwell Day:What we were encouraged with, which is not a concern, is there was lots of speculation that President Obama wanted to do a wholesale renegotiation of NAFTA. We understand now that that's not on and we think there's ways of accommodating the environmental concerns and the labour concerns. They got off to a very good start on laying out the first ground works, some of the first rules to looking at how we do environmental regulations and environmental concerns. Whether that gets drafted right into NAFTA. Whether it can be left separate as a side agreement, that will be one of the things Minister Prentice is charged with.
I know from previous provincial experience, when NAFTA was being negotiated, I was a provincial Minister of Labour at the time adn we we were able to agree on the times and have it as a side accord, because labour was a provincial jurisdiction.
So I think the goal is to have labour regulations, labour concerns, that satisify their needs and we can take a look at whether that actually gets written into the agreement or the implementation language is strong enough that it can stay as a side accord. The main thing is to have the issues addressed.
Bourbeau But is this process being driven by the Americans or do we share the concerns that President Obama has raised specifically about labour and environmental standards and how they're applied through NAFTA.
Day I'd say their concern level is maybe a little higher and maybe over time — I'm just speculating on this — President Obama may realize that a lot of the concerns he has are largely addressed within the accord. During his campaign, quite understandably, he was speaking to a large labour constituency and he wanted to make sure and get the message out to them that labour-related concerns in these agreements is actually enshrined.
Keep in mind that Mexico is also involved. So you can understand where we're at in the state of our labour maybe a little bit different than where they're at. So that's part of their focus.
Bourbeau The prime minister said that his concern is, if you embark on this process it could become very cumbersome, very time-consuming, kind of messy. Is that a concern for the Canadian government that it might not simply be worth the hassle?
Day It is a concern. NAFTA — the free trade agreement with Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, is one of the most successful trade agreements in the world but it took a while to get there. That's what I'm finding out as we're negotiating and trying to get free trade agreements around the world now with differnet countries, there's a lot of detail with these things. And when you get one in place and you get it signed — and the implementing legislation in all the jurisdictions – it's quite a feat and you don't necessarily want to start unraveling that.
Our sense is that we want to get a clear understanding of what are their actual concerns related to labour; to which country are they most focused — is it Canadian labour law? Is it U.S.? Is it Mexican? — and see how we can get it addressed. Getting those concerns addressed is the main thing. The actual process is secondary, as long as the concerns can be put to rest.
Bourbeau One of the questions that emerged yesterday, Prime Minister Obama gave assurances that the Buy America provisions in the stimulus package were consistent with the WTO and NAFTA. Do we buy those assurances? Do we in fact believe that there is nothing in there that violate those agreements or in any way threatens our ability to access American markets?
Day When we have the President of the United States coming out as he did — after the Prime Minister had raised those concerns about the Buy America provisions about three weeks ago, it was after that that President Obama came out and said we hear you Canada. They said your concerns are justified and he was very clear that he didn't want anything in the Buy America package that was going to violate trade agreements. We felt good about that. We felt even better when he insisted an amendment be put into that legislation that said just that, you can't violate ongoing and existing concerns. And it was Prime Minister Harper who led that charge and we felt comfortable with what we got from that. So he repeated it again in his visit here — President Obama did — again that gives us comfort but he did use those words “Canadians shouldn't be too concerned” and I don't think there was any hidden meaning in that but we are going to have to be vigilant, almost on a daily basis, with the various industry groups in the United States that might be pushing their representatives for some protectionist measures beyond what the original intent of what this act was. We'll just have to be aggressive and stay on top of it.
Akin:One of the things you and the prime minister have been doing is spreading the message that protectionism doesn't work, that in the long run,it hurts everybody. Here in Canada, you've got folks who are arguing for protectionist measures for our own economy. They say free trade isn't working for Canada and they say the proof is in our trade deficit of December. Commodity prices dropped and we have a deficit. That says to these critics, all the world wants from us is our wood and our rocks and where are the high-value jobs, the good jobs, that should protect us from the swings of oil prices? How do address protectionist critics right here in our own country?
Day Canada is as prosperous as it is because we have been free traders for our entire history. We simply because of great technology and great skills and great education, we produce a lot more than we can consume. And if we can't sell it abroad, then it's going to be lean times all the time, not just up and down in recession times. So any free trade agreement for Canada is very good and that can be demonstrably shown with very strong evidence. In terms of the deficit in December, the numbers were down and that's largely because the price of oil went down and the volumes that are in demand right now for oil, especially in the U.S., are down because their economy is down. So that's why we're seeing some numbers drop. But on consumer goods, in December, for the same month that we showed this drop because of oil volumes and oil prices, the manufacture and export of consumer goods to the United States went up 5.2 per cent. So on the manufactured side, we're doing o.k. We're still being hit by this global downturn.
Then people say, well, how long are we going to have this trade deficit. If you look at the April numbers for the futures market – people are buying large amounts of oil now for the future — the April numbers are $42 a barrel which is higher than it is right now. For July, they're $49. So we see that coming back into some equilibrium, maybe even some surplus.
Kennedy Mr. Day, as you know, there are real concerns out there about the Canada U.S. border because of security measures many of which have come on since 9-11. Now the prime minister yesterday made it very clear — he went out of his way — to let Americans know that we get their concerns, that anything that might happen in New York, concerns Toronto. But be that as it may, there recently was a review of Canada-U.S. security measures, and there is a view out there that perhaps border security is being used as a de dacto way of putting up protectionist measures. What do you make of that view and what can you do in your job to ensure that there is a free flow of goods and services across the border?
Day Well you've hit on one of thing things I'm beginning to learn in trade matters, is one of the tricks of the trade is you can get an industry, hopefully it's from another country and not from ours, come forward to their government and say, “As a safety issue, or as a security issue, we need to demand this from Canadian products coming in.” Sometimes that can be a bona fide safety and security issue. A lot of times it's what we call a non-tariff barrier and they will use that.
I thought the Prime Minister was very effective in terms of how he sent the message saying, look, U.S. security concerns are our concerns. We're on the same continent here. But also getting the message out that we don't consistently need to see security trumping efficiency or trumping prosperity all the time. The previous administration we understood, coming right out of 9-11, they had one goal in mind, that that never happen again. and we understand that. So for quite a period of time, it was a ramping up of security measures to the place where it's a pretty secure border. And we're saying now's the time, we'll maintain those security levels but we've got to focus on efficiency and I was really pleased to to see President Obama's response to Prime Minister Harper when he said, you now what, there's bottlenecks at the border, we should take some of our infrastructure money and change — you know, when we're talking about infrastructure at the border, we're talking about the way the lanes work. We need an extra bridge here or there. Do you need a wider receiving area for trucks? And that's where Minister Baird, for us, and Minister Van Loan on border issues will guide the discussion and guide the resources to clear up some of the bottlenecks. I think it was a great step forward for the prime minister to have President Obama talk about these bottlenecks and say, you know what?, let's address that. Let's get our infrastructure focused on that.
Kennedy What's the impact to our economy and to theirs if we don't fix that problem? If we don't reduce these bottlenecks?
Day It's like a hidden cost to a manufacturer or an exporter with just the way the auto trade is integrated back-and-forth across the border, Windsor to Detroit, a car in various forms can go back and forth six or seven times just in its construction related to where the parts are being made. That's very ineffective and costly if there's unnecessary delays. There's a major infrastructure commitment now. At that particularly border, using that as an example, the Ambassador Bridge, its the principal crossing there, people don't realize a third of all our trade with the U.S. crosses over that bridge. And now that trade is picking up so much over the last decade because of the free trade agreement, there has to be infrastructure there, there has to be alternate crossings and that's an example of an area that needs infrastructure dollars to become more efficient but you still maintain a level of security.
Akin:Forget about trade for a minute: A long time ago you lost a leadership race to the Prime Minister and since then, we've talked to a lot of folks from your party, and there's a great respect for you there. People inside your party – and outside your party — think you've been one of the most effective ministers in the last Parliament and so far in this one. You ever think about one day succeeding the guy who beat you in that leadership race?
Day Absolutely not. I'd like to make that very clear right now. I can tell you that Stephen Harper is the type of leader who is very easy to work for with all your heart and to support. He has the heart to see Canada prosper and to continue to become a great nation that it is and I can tell you to a man and to a woman, we have no problem whatsoever in giving him all the support he needs.
Akin:One day he may want to go himself…
Day Even when he does, maybe I'll take the walk with him! No I won't be walking down that other aisle. That's a very tough road. Jean Chrétien was right — occasionally — when he said that's a tough job. It is a very tought job. That's why we're giving the prime minister all the support that he needs.