Regina steelworkers celebrate as U.S. lifts tariffs

The Turvey Centre at Evraz's Regina steel mill was full of smiling faces during lunch on Friday, the day the prime minister announced the end of U.S. tariffs

Share Adjust Comment Print

The Turvey Centre at Evraz’s Regina steel mill was full of smiling faces during lunch on Friday, as hints of good news trickled in from Washington D.C.

Mike Day, president of USW 5890, already knew what was coming. He’d spoken with someone from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office that day, and learned the U.S. was set to lift tariffs on imports of Canadian steel and aluminum.

As the information spread, the Turvey Centre filled with relief.

“It’s a weight lifted off their shoulders,” he said. “It’s less stress. Everybody’s smiling.”

Day called the move “long overdue.” He said he was concerned that there would be a quota system of some sort, and was pleased to hear that isn’t in the cards.

Bill Edwards, right, former United Steelworkers Local 5890 president and 35-year steelworker, sits and chats with Mike Day, current president, at the union’s office on Park Street. BRANDON HARDER / Regina Leader-Post

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that the tariffs were at an end during a press conference at a Hamilton, Ont., steel plant. Though some had foreseen quotas or other restrictions, he said Canada had “stayed strong.” The U.S. provided a “full lift” of the tariffs, according to Trudeau.

“That’s what workers were asking for,” he said.

“This is just pure good news.”

The United States announced the tariffs on May 31, 2018. As of June 1, U.S. imports of Canadian steel faced a 25 per cent duty. Canadian aluminum was also hit with a 10 per cent tariff. The U.S. government justified the measures on national security grounds, something the federal government rejected as “inconceivable and completely unacceptable.”

Canada retaliated with reciprocal tariffs on U.S. steel and aluminum, and also levied duties on American consumer products, largely from states President Donald Trump needs to hold to be reelected next year. All in all, $16.6 billion worth of U.S. goods were affected by the countermeasures.

The tariffs stayed in place despite the signing of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which was negotiated to replace NAFTA. Some steelworkers, like Evraz millwright Courtland Klein, were exasperated that the federal government didn’t insist on getting the tariffs removed as a condition for signing.

“Why would you sign on to the USMCA trade deal while the tariffs were still active? Why didn’t you walk away?” Klein asked Trudeau during a townhall in Regina. “When in that part of the negotiations did you decide that we here in Regina weren’t good enough?”

A worker marks a coil of steel at Evraz in Regina. TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post

Trudeau, who had visited Evraz on two occasions to meet with steelworkers, responded that the government “reflected” on that question but decided the trade deal was too important to walk away. He said he was working on putting “pressure” on President Trump and other U.S. officials.

The pressure took months and months to pay off. On Friday, Trudeau pointed to “lots of conversation with the president over the past weeks.” But he said there was no specific moment that led to the breakthrough.

Ottawa also provided financial assistance to help the steel industry weather the storm. On Friday, he said that would remain in effect.

In light of Friday’s good news, Day said it would be unfair to be too hard on the feds for the delay.

“It’s really hard to judge because we’re not sitting in a room with Donald Trump,” he said.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also celebrated the news as it came in on Friday.

“The removal of tariffs from our steel and aluminum products is a good step in strengthening jobs and economic growth, and removes barriers to Canada’s relationship with our most significant trading partner,” Moe said in a statement.

“Saskatchewan has worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of our sustainable steel industry, and I will convey our thanks to our American partners for removing these tariffs when I am in Washington D.C. next week.”

awhite-crummey@postmedia.com

Comments