The House

Midweek podcast: U.S. comes out swinging on 1st day of NAFTA talks

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer didn’t hold back on the first official day of NAFTA negotiations, saying the 23-year-old agreement has “fundamentally failed” many Americans and “needs major improvement." Dan Ujczo, and international trade lawyer, weighs in.
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland speaks at a news conference prior to the inaugural round of North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations in Washington, U.S., August 16, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer didn't hold back on the first official day of NAFTA negotiations, saying the 23-year-old agreement has "fundamentally failed" many Americans and "needs major improvement."

It was an unusually hostile way to kick off trade talks, which usually begin with at least a facade of cooperation and the expressed desire to reach a mutually beneficial arrangement.

"Under normal terms this would be a week where you set up planning and scheduling, [and have] conversations over coffees and cocktails. However the U.S. has changed the usual playbook," Dan Ujczo, and international trade lawyer who specializes in Canada-U.S. matters, told Chris Hall in an interview on CBC Radio's The House.

"Our understanding is they're putting prepared texts for the agreement on the table and getting right into it, in particular starting with some of the more controversial issues," he said..

Earlier this week Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government is "committed to a good deal, not just any deal."

Ujczo thinks that's a good approach.

"Rather than have the need for speed to get this done by January, let's take the time to really focus on a comprehensive agreement and try to get this done," he said.

The merits of removing controversial monuments 

The faint outlines of the phrase "Black Lives Matter" remain on the statue of Robert E. Lee after it was vandalized in Charlottesville, Va., Tuesday, June 30, 2015. (Bryan McKenzie/The Daily Progress via AP)

With tensions still simmering after the violence in Charlottesville over the weekend, U.S. Donald Trump used a press conference this week to plod into a historical debate.

"Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down," he told reporters Tuesday.

"I wonder if it's George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself when does it stop?" 

Canada is not immune to flawed monuments.

This spring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the renaming of the Langevin Block, out of respect for Indigenous peoples.

The building's namesake, Hector-Louis Langevin, was a father of Confederation and a strong proponent of the Indian Residential School System. 

Hector-Louis Langevin, a father of Confederation, and a prominent member of Sir John A. Macdonald's cabinet, proposed the creation of Indian Residential Schools as the most expeditious way to assimilate First Nations children into Euro-Canadian society. Indigenous leaders want his named removed from Langevin block in Ottawa, the building that houses the Prime Minister's Office. (Library and Archives Canada)

And just this week the Hudson's Bay Company removed a plaque from the company's flagship store in downtown Montreal that commemorates Jefferson Davis, who was president of the Confederate States during the American Civil War.

Cecilia Morgan, author of Commemorating Canada: History, Heritage, and Memory and a professor of history at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, said talking about the legitimacy of controversial historical figures is often weighted with emotion.

"A sense of the past and a sense of history is very central, for many of us, to the way in which we think about ourselves as human beings, as citizens," she said.

"People think that some how these monuments represent the sum total of that history and in fact the monuments actually represent the particular historical moment in which they were erected."

Morgan said it's unlikely Canada would be having a conversation about Langevin​'s role in residential schools if the building that houses the Prime Minister's Office didn't bear his name.

"I would be disturbed if people weren't questioning and thinking about what do these monuments, and other forms of public history that go along with them, what do they mean? What do they signify?" she said.

Morgan said context is always important when applying today's morals to historical figures.

"The comparison of (former U.S. president Thomas) Jefferson to Robert E. Lee is quote frankly dangerous and pretentious," she said. 

"There were lots of people in the United States by the time Robert E. Lee was around who were pointing out the evils of slave holding."