Justin Trudeau is going all out in his fight against Trump’s tariffs

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Matt Cardy/Getty Images
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has hit back hard after President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US would impose tariffs on imports of Canadian steel and aluminium.
  • It’s a shift in Trudeau’s public approach to the Trump administration.
  • The increasing tensions come at a critical juncture for the US’s economic relationship with Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has embarked on a furious media campaign in recent days, attacking US President Donald Trump’s trade policy in a move that shows a substantial shift in his attitude toward Trump.

Trudeau has released fiery public statements in the days since Trump announced that the US would impose tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. Trudeau has also appealed directly to US audiences as part of his media blitz.

Trudeau takes aim at Trump’s tariffs

On Thursday, Trudeau blasted Trump’s latest tariff decision.

“Let me be clear: These tariffs are totally unacceptable,” Trudeau said at a press conference announcing retaliatory measures.

Trudeau’s strong words continued in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the top-rated US political Sunday show, where he called the tariffs “frankly insulting” during an interview with the host Chuck Todd.

The Trump administration says it imposed the tariffs on national-security grounds, arguing that domestic metals industries need to be protected in the event that a geopolitical issue cuts off access to imported steel and aluminium.

Because the US and Canada are close allies on geopolitical issues, Trudeau took particular offence to the justification.

“The idea that, you know, our soldiers who had fought and died together on the beaches of World War II and the mountains of Afghanistan, and have stood shoulder to shoulder in some of the most difficult places in the world, that are always there for each other, somehow – this is insulting to that,” Trudeau said on NBC.

Trudeau also stepped up criticism of the Trump administration on negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

Generally upbeat about the talks to this point, Trudeau pulled back the curtain and expressed frustration with the Trump administration’s handling of the negotiations. Trudeau had told reporters Thursday that Trump agreed to a sit-down meeting to hammer out details of a new NAFTA, but Vice President Mike Pence reversed course just a few days later.

Trudeau’s frustration while recounting the story was palpable, leaving reporters taken aback.

A White House official said Trudeau’s version of events was “simply inaccurate.”

A shift in tone

Trump’s relationship with Trudeau in his first 18 months in office started amicably, with a strong handshake and a relatively cordial first meeting a month after Trump’s inauguration.

During that meeting, Trump backed off his strong criticisms of NAFTA expressed during the campaign – he had called it the “worst trade deal in history” – and suggested the US could be willing to merely tweak the deal.

The early meetings seemed to point to Trudeau taking a softer approach to Trump, trying to maintain a strong relationship while gently prodding the president on economic issues.

But trade strained the relationship. In March, audio leaked of Trump bragging during a fundraising dinner about bluffing to Trudeau on trade.

“Trudeau came to see me. He’s a good guy, Justin. He said: ‘No, no, we have no trade deficit with you. We have none. Donald, please,'” Trump said. “I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know … I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.'”

NAFTA talks soon hit significant hurdles over a series of US demands. Then the Trump administration kick-started its tariffs.

Given the increased blows from the US, Trudeau appears to have decided to take a different track.

“This is not about the American people. We have to believe that at some point their common sense will prevail,” Trudeau said Thursday. “But we see no sign of that in this action today by the US administration.”

The Trump administration, for its part, has not taken the blows lying down. In a statement on Thursday, the White House called out Trudeau by name.

“The United States has been taken advantage of for many decades on trade. Those days are over,” the statement said. “Earlier today, this message was conveyed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada: The United States will agree to a fair deal, or there will be no deal at all.”