Tariffs and steel package 'really all you can do' for Hamilton jobs right now: expert

It's too early to know if retaliatory tariffs and a new federal package for the steel industry is enough to save Hamilton jobs, says one expert. But it's the best Steeltown can hope for right now.

Thousands of jobs at stake in trade war, but the federal government is doing all it can, says Marvin Ryder

Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland takes a selfie with steelworker Jeremy Spence in her stop at Stelco Friday. "We'll take care of this," she called after her tour. "I promise." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It's too early to know if retaliatory tariffs and a new federal package for the steel industry is enough to save Hamilton jobs, says one expert. But it's the best Steeltown can hope for right now.

Marvin Ryder from McMaster University says if Trump's U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel continue, jobs will be in trouble in 2019.

But the $2 billion effort Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced at Stelco Friday is as good it gets right now.

"This is all you can have today," said Ryder, an assistant professor of marketing with the DeGroote School of Business.

Chrystia Freeland toured Stelco with Trevor Harris, vice president of corporate affairs, as well as Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas MP Filomena Tassi and Navdeep Bains, among others. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"It's a good first start. Whether it's enough, only time is going to know."

Freeland joined Employment Minister Patty Hajdu and Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains at Stelco.

The trio announced the following:

  • A list of retaliatory tariffs on items such as cast-iron grills, refrigerator-freezers and pillows. The goods amount to $16.6 billion worth of products, the amount that the U.S. imposed on Canada. They will go into effect Sunday. "We are acting in very much in sorrow, not in anger," Freeland said.
  • More money to the provinces and territories for job and training programs.
  • Up to $250 million to "better integrate the Canadian supply chain of steel and aluminum."
  • $50 million to help companies diversify their products and where they are exported.
  • Extending Employment Insurance work-sharing agreements by more than 38 weeks.

Ottawa has also complained to the World Trade Organization.

The group applauded Hamilton steelworkers after the announcement. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

That's "really all you can do," Ryder said. "Trump is the man causing the problem. We're all reacting."

Local job losses, if they happen, would likely come in 2019 and 2020 if the tariff situation remains as it is, Ryder said.

"As I understand, 30 days into the Trump tariffs, very few steel orders have been cancelled," he said. It's the long-term orders "that you want to win now … they're not coming because business says 'we've got to wait and see.'"

Gary Howe, president of United Steelworkers Local 1005, said he hopes it works. Retraining dollars are nice, he said, but steelworkers want to keep the jobs they have.

"It's really all you can do," said Marvin Ryder, McMaster University assistant professor and frequent commenter on the steel industry. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"We're not really that interested in retraining," he said. "People would rather be working."

The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce estimates that 10,000 local jobs are directly related to steel production, plus another 30,000 spin off jobs. Nationally, more than 23,000 Canadians work in the steel industry. It contributes $4.2 billion to Canada's gross domestic product.

The aluminum industry employs 10,500 workers and contributes $4.7 billion to Canada GDP, the federal government says.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he "enthusiastically endorses" the retaliatory tariffs. And U.S. counterparts he's talked to don't like the tariffs either.

Trevor Harris from Stelco walked the group through the facility. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"We like the United States," he said. "They are our neighbours, allies, friends and business partners."

"Our city has weathered challenging times before. Together, with the support and backing of our federal and provincial partners, I believe we will come through this tariff dispute as well."

"Steeltown is known for being scrappy. And just like in hockey, when we are forced to throw down the gloves, we expect to be able to shake hands at the end of the game."

On mobile? Read the live blog of the announcement here.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca