SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. — Canada won't be "bowled over" at the NAFTA negotiating table, Justin Trudeau promised Wednesday in the face of U.S. President Donald Trump's ongoing push for a quicker resolution to the ongoing trade talks.
The prime minister made the comment Wednesday while greeting steelworkers during an early-morning shift change outside a plant in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., part of a three-day meet-and-greet tour of communities where steel and aluminum manufacturing are major employers.
"We're standing up for ourselves. But, we know there's a win-win-win we can get to," Trudeau told one employee at the Algoma steel facility.
"The challenge (the United States) faces is that we're there at the table, we're contributing but we're not just going to be bowled over by them," he added.
"We're pushing back on some things that we think might not be the right suggestions, which is what people would expect from Canada."
In a phone conversation with Trudeau earlier this week, Trump called for the talks to wrap up promptly — an echo of his administration's long-standing desire to resolve the negotiations before upcoming congressional elections in the U.S. later this year and a Mexican presidential election July 1.
Speaking at a sustainable business forum Wednesday in Vancouver, International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the government has stood firm at the NAFTA table and will continue to do so.
"We've done that with Boeing. We've done that with softwood lumber. We'll continue. We are constructive. We'll always be at the table," Champagne said. "We want to modernize NAFTA, a NAFTA that is a win-win-win situation."
Trudeau later travelled to Regina where he toured the Evraz steel factory and reassured workers of the federal government's support for the industry.
Trump recently exempted Canada and Mexico from tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum, although the U.S. government has been dropping hints that the exception is only temporary. Trump in particular has been linking Canada's fate on tariffs to the outcome of the NAFTA negotiations.
"I'm really happy to be having the kind of conversations we're having this week instead of the conversations we might have had had the American decision gone differently last week," Trudeau told the workers.
"I'm glad to be able to reassure you guys a little bit."
Regina was the final stop on Trudeau's tour of metal cities which began in Alma, Que., moved to Hamilton on Tuesday before visiting Sault Ste. Marie Wednesday morning.
Trudeau credited the co-ordinated efforts of business, labour and political leaders for securing an exemption for Canadian steel and aluminum from the recent threat of U.S. trade duties.
"One of the really strong things about our approach is that we're all saying the same kinds of things from very, very different perspectives," he told a roundtable of industry leaders in Sault Ste. Marie.
"It's been a real team effort and Canada has been united."
Trudeau emphasized how the level of integration between the American and Canadian steel industries means both economies would suffer from trade restrictions.
"We can see the bridge built with local steel here that literally connects Canada to the United States," he said, gesturing out the window toward the overpass spanning the nearby St. Marys River that separates the Canadian city from its American namesake in Michigan.
"These are things that I highlighted to the president."
Earlier in the day, Trudeau was taken on a tour of the Algoma facility. Wearing a white hard hat, he watched from a raised walkway as a red-hot sheet of steel shot along rollers and was sprayed with water, sending a sharp hiss throughout the plant.
Later wearing an orange hard hat in Regina, Trudeau inspected the Evraz plant, shook hands with workers and received explanations on how different machines worked.
The prime minister also met with Regina Mayor Michael Fougere and with steel industry leaders.
During his earlier visits to factories in Saguenay, Que., and Hamilton, Trudeau repeated his message that the national security argument the U.S. has made when it comes to tariffs makes no sense and could not apply to Canada.
Speaking in Hamilton on Tuesday, Trudeau said there are measures in place, including tariffs and tougher border controls, to prevent steel and aluminum producers in other countries from using Canada as a back door to slip cheap metal into the U.S..
Trudeau said the surplus of steel in the global market is not new and with American tariffs in place, some countries might try to ship their products to the U.S. through Canada.
He said Canada would be alert to such scenarios and would work with industry partners and the U.S. to make sure that doesn't happen.
— With files from Ryan McKenna in Regina. Follow @gwomand on Twitter
Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press