Trudeau assures northern Ontario paper workers they have support of government

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is assuring paper workers— and producers— in northern Ontario that during tense NAFTA negotiations, the government is lending its support.

PM visits elementary school and paper mill on surprise visit to Kapuskasing

Rayonier Advanced Materials' newsprint mill in Kapuskasing, Ont, employs about 300 people, according to the company's website. (Yvon Theriault/ Radio-Canada CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is assuring paper workers— and producers— in northern Ontario that during tense NAFTA negotiations, the government is lending its support, at least in spirit.

On Wednesday Trudeau toured Kapuskasing, a mill town with a population of just over 8,000, where he assured workers that "the government has your back."

"One of the things I've seen across the summer is people pulling together and being there to support each other," Trudeau said.

"That's not something new for us, it's just something we do as Canadians."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits the Rayonier Advanced Materials newsprint facility in Kapuskasing. (Yvon Theriault/ Radio-Canada CBC)

Trudeau did not outline any plans to assist paper mills, stressing that he would not "negotiate in public" while talks with the U.S. were underway.

He did point to a recent decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission to overturn tariffs placed by the U.S. Commerce Department on Canadian newsprint as being a potential sign of positive results ahead.

"This is really good news, but it's also something that we've been working very hard for because we recognize the extra challenges put on a media industry that is facing significant disruption," Trudeau said.

"Being able to ensure the continuation of small newspapers across North America by accessing competitively priced newsprint is something that is good for our democracy, good for our communities, and obviously good for our forestry workers here in Canada," he said.

NAFTA negotiations are under a U.S.-imposed deadline of Friday, a ticking clock that Trudeau said wasn't going to affect the negotiating team's mandate.

"We know there is a good possibility of getting to a good deal for Canada by Friday," Trudeau said. "We are standing very firm on a broad range of things that deeply matter to Canadians."

"We have a strong sense that we're doing the right things the right way."

The right way

"Doing things the right way" has been a line repeated by Trudeau recently. And according to Nipissing University political science professor David Tabachnick, the timing of Trudeau's visit to the mill town was no accident. Coming on the heels of the Commission's decision, it highlighted Canada's emphasis on solving issues diplomatically. 

"What I think is going on is [Trudeau] is pointing out the need to have mechanisms to settle trade disputes," Tabachnick said. "This of course is a big sticking point in current negotiations."

"This is really why NAFTA worked for Canada," Tabachnick added. "[In the agreement] there are bureaucratic mechanisms out of the glare of everyday politics that can help solve these types of conflicts."

"There are ways for us to solve problems without it becoming a big political football," Tabachnick added. "Even worse, there could be actual conflict, which had been the case in the distant past."

MP Charlie Angus reacts to Trudeau's visit

NDP Charlie Angus told CBC News he isn't confident interests in north are being served by a last-minute agreement between Canada and the U.S. Angus said Trudeau's eagerness to get the deal signed by the Friday deadline makes him "uneasy."

 "We went through really tough negotiations with Trump," Angus said. "This guy does not play by the rules fairly. If we go down and sign something by Friday, I can't see how it's going to be in Canada's interest."

As for the timing of Trudeau's visits, Angus said it's likely a case of the Liberals taking the opportunity to stake out political ground ahead of the 2019 federal election. Angus said he understands the politicking, but would prefer Trudeau met with regional leaders to discuss pressing issues in the region.

"I'd like him to come back outside of burger flipping season and hear from the north," Angus said.