Canada has to know what its priorities are with a Trump presidency: Mulcair

The NDP leader talked Trump, the steel industry and the future of his party's leadership with CBC Hamilton last week.

The NDP leader talks Trump, the steel industry and the future of his party's leadership

"Canada has to start defining our own priorities," says Thomas Mulcair, federal NDP leader, of trade deals under a Trump presidency. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Canada needs to identify some firm priorities if it wants to survive next door to a protectionist Donald Trump presidency, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said in Hamilton last week.

Canada has to start defining our own priorities.- Thomas Mulcair

Mulcair visited the United Steelworkers Local 1005 union hall Thursday to field questions from worried steelworkers. Afterward, he said Trump's protectionist stance in trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the NAFTA mean Canada needs to know what it wants going into negotiations.

"Canada has to start defining our own priorities," said Mulcair, whose party opposed the TPP in its current form.

"(President) Trump has made it clear through his spokesperson in the past week that everything is on the table with NAFTA, for example. That's their opening statement for an eventual negotiation. What's Canada's position? We haven't got the slightest idea."

Mulcair appeared with Scott Duvall, NDP MP for Hamilton Mountain and the party's pensions critic. Duvall is also a former steelworker.

Thomas Mulcair, right, accepts a United Steelworkers Local 1005 T-shirt from president Gary Howe. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Duvall is calling for an overhaul of the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), the process through which U.S. Steel Canada entered into bankruptcy protection. A court ruled that the company could temporarily stop paying post-employment benefits such as health care to former Stelco pensioners, as well as millions in local property taxes. Bedrock Industries now wants to buy the company, which has been renamed Stelco again.

CBC Hamilton posed some questions to the two about steel, Trump and the future of the party's leadership.

What do you think of the job Bob Bratina (Liberal MP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) is doing on the steel file?

Duvall: We're on the steel committee. Bob is the co-chair. I'm the vice chair. So we've been talking on some issues on steel. Unfortunately, it's been on steel dumping and not about the CCAA. We've been pushing him to see if we can get something working together. I don't care what political stripe you are. We've got to fix this problem.

Is unsealing the deal that the federal government made with U.S. Steel (when Stelco was sold) still relevant?

Duvall: We don't know anymore. We're past that stage and we're going into a new stage. But I really believe the federal government should be at the table. They don't have to get involved in the CCAA process. They have to be at the table to talk to the union presidents, not only from Hamilton and Lake Erie but from Sault St. Marie also, to find out how we can strengthen the steel industry in Canada.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, second from left, speaks to an audience of steelworkers with, from left, United Steelworkers Local 1005 president Gary Howe, NDP MP Scott Duvall from Hamilton Mountain and NDP MPP Monique Taylor from Hamilton Mountain. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

What is the next thing that needs to happen to do that?

Duvall: I think the minister should be contacting local union presidents just like I requested just prior to Christmas time. Basically, I didn't get a response to that.

I want to talk a little bit about the Trump inauguration. What do you think Canada needs to do given who the president is going to be?

Mulcair: Canada has to start defining our own priorities. President-Elect Trump has made it clear through his spokespersons in the past week that everything is on the table — with NAFTA, for example. That's their opening statement for an eventual negotiation. What's Canada's position? We haven't got the slightest idea.

The NDP has a clear position. We would renegotiate chapter 11, which gives powerful corporations the right to sue our government on key issues like health and the environment. That's the type of thing we would change. We don't have any indication from the Liberals, except that they're welcoming Mr. Trump with open arms. I think that we need a federal government that's going to stand up strongly against the agenda of Donald Trump's administration because it has nothing in it for Canada.

Hamilton steelworkers asked Mulcair questions from the floor. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

We seem to entering an era where billionaires are presenting themselves as being the voice of the worker. That's supposed to be the NDP's role. How do you make sure the NDP inhabits that space in the next election?

Mulcair: We've been talking for a long time about the importance of making sure international trade deals aren't a race to the bottom. They're constantly lowering workers' wages and conditions. We have an articulated position against these trade deals.

We've come out foursquare against the TPP. It is a bit surprising that a right wing populist like Mr. Trump wants the same result, but he gets there in a completely different way because he wants to make sure America gets everything it wants, and no trading partner with it is allowed to have reciprocity. What we've said all along is that it shouldn't be a race to the bottom when you sign this sort of trade deal. You have to be sure you're raising everyone up instead of pulling everyone down, which is what we've been doing for the past 30 years.

Thomas Mulcair shakes hands with steelworkers and retirees on the way out of the hall. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It sounds like trade deals are area you think should be a priority now that there's a new president.

Mulcair: Mr. Trudeau has the obligation to be clear with Canadians. What's his strategy? What are his priorities? What's he going to be fighting for with the Trump administration? Trump has been out there laying down markers but Mr. Trudeau has said the changes we've made, including firing Stephane Dion, are to better take on Americans. But we've seen nothing from Mr. Trudeau's Liberals so far.

Do you see any similarities between Bernie Sanders's campaign and the NDP?

Mulcair: I don't compare anything we've done in our 60 years of existence to any other country. I know the NDP as a social democratic party has always been the sole credible voice for progress in Ottawa. There's an old joke that a Liberal is just a Conversative that every four years gets dressed up as an NDPer. And that's what we've seen in the last campaign. The Liberals tried to emulate a lot of things the NDP had every intention of doing, and at the same time as they were trying to sell themselves as progressives, they were fighting against a $15 an hour federal minimum wage. 

We've been consistent. We've been straightforward. We've always known whose side we're on.

You haven't commented on the NDP leadership race …

Mulcair: And I won't.

Can you elaborate on what sort of leader you'd like to see?

Mulcair: No. (laughs) Not with a 10-foot pole.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC

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