U.S. commerce secretary agrees to meet quarterly with Canada’s industry minister

WASHINGTON — There may be gale-force winds of change in America's long-term political forecast, but Canada will keep pressing its case with the White House and Congress regardless of who ends up in control of Capitol Hill next year, Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Thursday. 

Champagne emerged from two days of meetings with his U.S. counterparts, including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, with a commitment to hold even more meetings as the two countries work on ways to expedite a robust economic recovery on both sides of the border. 

He said he'll now meet with Raimondo and White House science adviser Eric Lander four times a year in order to accelerate their collective effort on issues like reinforcing Canada-U.S. supply chains, developing strategies for critical minerals and rare-earth elements, and reaching shared climate goals. 

"I think this is good for Canada," Champagne said. "This is good, because that's what we need to do, is to see what we can do more in North America." 

He called it a "generational opportunity" to ensure Canada and the U.S. can do more together to ensure supply chains are more resilient to future shocks like border closures and pandemics and grow a healthy auto sector newly focused on producing electric vehicles — a process that depends on minerals and rare-earth metals that are abundant in Canada, but currently dominated by China. 

But Tuesday's gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey exposed deep American dissatisfaction with Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers remain deadlocked over the two multitrillion-dollar centrepieces of President Joe Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda. 

In Virginia, newcomer Glenn Youngkin scored a decisive win over former governor Terry McAuliffe, whose constant portrayals of his rival as a Donald Trump acolyte failed to dent a well-run Republican campaign focused on pocketbook issues and deep-seated fears of creeping progressive influence on schools. 

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, eked out a nail-biter against Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli in a state that put 10 Democrats in the House of Representatives and handed Biden a 15-point win over the incumbent Trump just one year ago. 

With midterm elections now less than a year away, the results have left congressional Democrats nervously reassessing their own electoral fortunes, and started the countdown clock for a White House that knows the last two years of Biden's mandate will be challenging ones indeed. 

"My message is always that a decision on one side of the border will have an impact on both, and always reminding our U.S. colleagues that we are their first customer," Champagne said. "The competition is not between Canada and the U.S.; we're talking about a global competition, and how we make North America more resilient. I think that resonates across the aisle." 

Together, the two countries produced just four million electric vehicles in 2018, a number that needs to grow to 128 million by 2030, he added. 

"The only way we're going to achieve that is by having the ecosystem strengthened on both sides of the border, and I think that resonates." 

Champagne also said he added his voice Thursday to the chorus of international opposition to a proposed $12,500 suite of electric-vehicle tax credits that's part of the ambitious $1.75-trillion climate and social spending package the White House is trying to get through Congress. 

The package is geared toward promoting vehicles built with union labour and assembled in the U.S., a structure that critics say gives an unfair advantage to Detroit's Big Three automakers — Ford, General Motors and Chrysler parent company Stellantis — and violates trade agreements, including the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. 

"Senators understand that if there's a sector of our economy where the supply chains are very integrated, it's the auto sector," Champagne said. 

"I think there's kind of a reckoning to say we need to preserve that, because that's what we want to do, and any provision that would disrupt supply chains would be detrimental on both sides of the border." 

Federal and diplomatic officials alike will be proposing potential solutions "that will be a win-win," he added: "We want to sell more electric vehicles in North America, and we want to sell them with North American content. So that's what we're going to be doing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2021. 

James McCarten, The Canadian Press