After a nail-biter few weeks for the steel industry, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in Hamilton today to visit the city’s two biggest steel producers and show solidarity with workers in an industry threatened by possible American tariffs.
Though U.S. President Donald Trump exempted Canada from the 25-per-cent tariff plan last week, he left the door open for penalties if ongoing negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement don’t satisfy him.
That leaves some vulnerability for Hamilton’s steel sector, comprising the big companies like Stelco and ArcelorMittal Dofasco, as well as many smaller companies and the supply chain. As many as 40,000 local jobs could be affected if the tariffs were to apply to Hamilton steel.
The steel industry was responsible for nearly seven million tonnes of cargo, including raw materials, in and out of Hamilton’s port last year – the largest category of cargo by far.
Trudeau is scheduled to visit Stelco this morning, hold a roundtable with steelworkers and visit ArcelorMittal Dofasco this afternoon.
Trudeau told CHCH this morning that the tour is to show support to Canadian steelworkers and to listen to their anxieties.
“Mostly, it’s about reassuring the workers that we have their backs,” he said. “These tariffs are certainly not their fault.”
He declined to name specific ways the government will support those workers, should tariffs be imposed.
“We have lots of levers; let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “Right now we have no tariffs on; we’re fine. Let’s see how this evolves.”
Trudeau made a stop at the West Town Bar and Grill on Locke Street after getting into town Monday night.
‘We had your backs last week and we always will’
Yesterday, Trudeau visited a Rio Tinto Alcan aluminum plant in Saguenay, about 250 kilometres north of Quebec City. The tour of cities heavily reliant on steel and aluminum is expected to also include stops in Sault Ste. Marie and Regina.
Asked on Monday what he would do if Trump changed course and slapped duties on Canada, Trudeau said, “we’ll see when we get to that point.”
“But I accept what the president said,” Trudeau added, “that as long as there is a free-trade deal in North America there won’t be tariffs.”
“The exemption represented a positive step in the right direction but we still have a lot more work to do,” Trudeau told the room full of aluminum workers. “We had your backs last week and we always will.”
Canada is the United States’ largest foreign provider of steel and aluminum, with about 85 per cent of Canadian exports being directed to that country.