American business initiatives continue to plague Ottawa

Every fall, Canada’s finance minister is tasked with updating the House of Commons on the country’s fiscal and economic situation.

It comes in the form of a speech, known as the fall economic update.

It’s an important day on Parliament Hill say, for example, if you happen to be a business reporter, but most years the economic update has been met with somewhat muted fanfare.

This year’s update, set for Nov. 21, will likely be an exception to that rule.

Why? Enter Donald Trump.

For one thing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has yet to respond to the significant tax reforms the U.S. president’s administration has brought in south of the border.

Canadian industry has warned that those changes have left this country at a competitive disadvantage.

Some sectors, notably within the manufacturing industry, have warned that investments that had been earmarked for Canada could instead be made in the United States.

It’s worth keeping in mind that food is one of the biggest manufacturing industries in this country.

Corporate Canada’s competitiveness concerns have been echoed by at least one Senate committee. Both sides have urged the federal government to slash business taxes to protect and lure additional investment to this country.

Trump’s tax changes aren’t the only item that could challenge Canadian competitiveness.

It’s been six months since the U.S. imposed stiff tariffs on imports of Canadian steel and aluminum products. Washington continues to insist that the tariffs are necessary for national security reasons — an argument Canada vehemently rejects.

The Trudeau government imposed more than $16 billion in retaliatory tariffs against a lengthy list of American goods.

Since then, Canada’s steel and aluminum manufacturers have said they’re struggling to survive. A federal program designed to assist those within the industry has faced criticism from all sides.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau was recently told at a meeting of the House international trade committee that the program needs to be adjusted. The finance minister said he was open to suggestions from industry, but insisted the program was working.

It’s safe to say Canada’s steel and aluminum industries will likely be looking for more insight into Ottawa’s plan in the upcoming weeks.

Then there’s the fallout over ongoing global trade tensions, including the continuing trade war between the United States and China.

Morneau’s fiscal update will come a week after he and his cabinet colleagues Trade Minister Jim Carr and Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay meet in Beijing for an economic dialogue.

China continues to be a major marketplace for Canadian goods and one some sectors have hoped to diversify into in light of ongoing concerns around Canada’s dependency on the United States.

China is a particularly important market for Canadian agriculture, especially for goods like canola.

Trudeau has insisted Canada remains open to increasing its trade relationship with China.

This, despite recent tensions over a clause included in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that requires all parties to declare if they enter into a free-trade agreement with any “non-market economies,” including China.

Canada is a trading nation. All eyes will be on Morneau to reassure those who remain nervous about the current international marketplace.

Last, but certainly not least, will be Morneau’s performance itself.

The embattled finance minister has had a rough go of it these past few years, struggles that have required the prime minister to come to his defence.

Trudeau has steadfastly stood next to his finance minister since his appointment in 2015.

On Nov. 21, Canadians — and this country’s business community —will be looking for a finance minister who instills confidence and provides reassurances.

A year out from a federal election, which appears to be shaping up as a potentially tight race, the Liberals are likely hoping for the same.

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