KAMLOOPS — It’s easy to play tough when it’s only talk. It’s much more difficult when the talking ends and it’s time for action.
We’ve been watching in frustration for the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s administration. The U.S. President, instead of understanding that Canada is and always will be a strong ally because of our geographic connection, is going in the totally opposite direction. He’s criticized Canada on a number of fronts. In particular, he has threatened to dismantle the North American Free Trade Agreement and impose duties on Canadian softwood lumber. The U.S. has long felt that Canada has given its lumber producers unfair advantages, so this is not a Trump thing, it’s more a U.S. thing.
But Trump has gone further in his protectionist stance by indicating he might totally rewrite the book on trade. Canada is threatening retaliation. We’ve talked about tariffs on coal exports, we’ve talked about some specific duties against products from Oregon. We’re targeting Oregon because one of the strongest advocates of softwood tariffs comes from that state. Some would suggest shutting off water exports. Of course, that’s not practical or possible, and holding that up as a possibility is just plain silly. There are some moves we can make, and we can make things uncomfortable for The Donald and his cronies. But to quote an old adage, “sometimes it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie”. And if we wake the dog, and he gets angry, where would that leave us?
The U.S. has the hammer here. Canada is not powerless in dealing with its southern neighbor, but its power is limited to a relatively small stick. We are not the big dog here. We are the little yappy dog. And while we can yap all we want, it will take only one “woof” from the big dog to slap us silly. Not that we shouldn’t fight for what we believe in, and argue our case in the strongest possible terms, but let’s remember that it’s largely a David versus Goliath fight. And while Dave won the battle in the Bible, it doesn’t mean the modern-day David will find a stone big enough to slay Goliath in today’s world.
We have to pick our battles, and there are some areas where we can lobby effectively for change in our relationship to our advantage. But we need to be cautious that we don’t try to take on the U.S. one on one. That would be a mistake of catastrophic proportions, and one that could cost a lot more than softwood tariffs. At the end of the day, the big guy doesn’t always win, but if you’re going to beat him, you don’t make challenges you can’t keep. You find the right battles to fight, and then you go at it for all you’re worth. But make sure the battles are ones you have a chance of winning, or else you have about as much chance as a Canadian team winning the Stanley Cup. And that’s not very high.