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All disquiet on the northern front Already wounded by exchange rate and White House bombast, North Dakota business community caught in cross-border trade war nervous ahead of Trump's Fargo rally

FARGO, N.D. – Next week, Canada and the U.S. will celebrate their national holidays with barbecues, beer and fireworks, but despite the similarities, the two nations haven’t been further apart in decades.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/06/2018 (1554 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

FARGO, N.D. – Next week, Canada and the U.S. will celebrate their national holidays with barbecues, beer and fireworks, but despite the similarities, the two nations haven’t been further apart in decades.

Earlier this month, in a span of only 10 days, the Trump administration imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum and hurled harsh insults at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In a tweet after leaving the G7 summit in Quebec early, U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out at Trudeau, calling him “dishonest and weak” before his top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, said “there’s a special place in hell” for Canada’s PM.

Trump will speak Wednesday at a political rally at Scheels Arena, a 5,000-seat hockey venue in southwest Fargo, roughly 360 km south of Winnipeg. Simon Wilson, executive director of the membership-based North Dakota Trade Office, said he hopes Trump avoids rhetoric about Canada. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 83.9 per cent of North Dakota’s exports — nearly $4.9 billion worth — went to Canada last year.

ADAM TREUSCH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Dale Lundeen, 79, of West Fargo, N.D., with some pins he bought from peddler Michael Goodart of Springfield, Mo., on Tuesday.

"We kind of hope he dials it back," Wilson said. "We’re not counting on that, but that would be a dream goal for our organization."

For Fargo and Grand Forks, cities that have already hosted significantly fewer Canadians shoppers and visitors in recent years, the insults after the G7 summit were unwelcome. Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said the business community was “very upset.”

“We weren’t too happy about that,” he said. “We regard Canada as our ally, and we think we need to treat our friends well. I think you need to have serious people sit down and have a frank discussion about what needs to be done, if there’s issues.”

Wilson, a dual citizen who grew up south of Ottawa, said Canada is like "family" to North Dakota.

"We don’t like any of this,” he said. "We’ll have little disagreements, but this is not how we deal with it. We don’t want tariffs. We don’t want artificial barriers. We want to buy Canadian products and from Canadian suppliers without tariffs, and we want to sell the same way."

ADAM TREUSCH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Simon Wilson, executive director of the North Dakota Trade Office.

Business leaders in Fargo and Grand Forks said it’s too soon to tell whether a Canadian boycott of U.S. products in response to the tariffs and the Trump administration’s rebuke of Trudeau will have an effect on cross-border visits from Manitobans. According to an Ipsos poll earlier this month, 70 per cent of Canadians say they’ll explore ways to avoid buying American products because of Trump’s tariffs.

“I personally don’t think it’s going to help. I mean, it’d be crazy to think it’s going to get better,” said Charley Johnson, president of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Based on all that’s happening, I don’t think Canadians will be coming back in droves anytime soon, until all this stuff gets resolved.”

Some love him, some hate him; no one can ignore him

(imageTag)Agnes Dieter wasn’t old enough to vote When Donald Trump was elected president. She plans to spend her 19th birthday Wednesday driving roughly three hours to protest outside the president’s rally.

FARGO, N.D. — Agnes Dieter wasn’t old enough to vote When Donald Trump was elected president. She plans to spend her 19th birthday Wednesday driving roughly three hours to protest outside the president’s rally.

“I’m done sitting in silence and watching a lot of the things that are happening in our country,” said Dieter, who lives in Morris, Minn. “I wanted to take some action and use my voice and let it be heard.”

Dieter, a music major at the University of Minnesota Morris, said she’s appalled by the separation of migrant children from their parents at the Mexican border. The president held a rally in Duluth, Minn., last week, but Dieter decided to protest outside Wednesday night’s event in Fargo, North Dakota’s largest city, because it’s a shorter drive.

This is Trump’s second trip to North Dakota as president. In September, he spoke at an oil refinery in Mandan. He’s the first sitting president to visit Fargo since George W. Bush, who spoke here in 2001 and 2005.

Trump is very popular in the deep-red state, particularly in rural areas. His percentage of the vote in the November 2016 election was among the highest of any state, and the last Democratic presidential candidate to win North Dakota was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Trump is stumping for Rep. Kevin Cramer, who’s seeking to unseat seemingly vulnerable first-term U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, in the November midterm elections. 

On Tuesday, there was nothing outside Scheels Arena indicating a rally is happening there Wednesday night, but a few people drove past seeking information.

“Great event coming up tomorrow,” one woman said while driving by. “Looking forward to it.”  

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Other supporters stopped to buy Trump-themed merchandise at a stand set up Tuesday in a parking lot at a busy intersection in south Fargo. Michael Goodart of Springfield, Mo., has been peddling shirts, hats and buttons at Trump rallies all over the U.S. since he travelled to his first in Iowa in 2015.

Goodart, who arrived in Fargo from Duluth last Friday, said his best-seller is a T-shirt that says “Trump 45,” and “Suck it up buttercup.”

He said he’s been advising customers hoping to attend the rally to get there early.

“I would be surprised if by 10 o’clock (Tuesday night) there wasn’t 10 people in line,” he said.

Jane Debing won’t be attending the rally, but is a big fan of the president.

“I love everything about him,” she said. “He’s smart, ambitious and has got a lot of energy. He’s a great man.”

It was a different story outside West Acres mall Tuesday, where no one approached by a Free Press reporter said they were attending the rally and several made pointed comments about the president.

“You couldn’t pay me enough,” said David Tommerdahl of Ada, Minn. “I can’t even stand to watch him on TV.”

Katie Ferguson of Moorhead paid extra to get an outfit inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale delivered in time to protest outside the rally. It arrived Monday. The dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, set in a repressive theocracy called Gilead, has been made into an American TV series. Ferguson read the book in high school and is a big fan of the show.

“I think there’s a lot of parallels between what is going on now and The Handmaid’s Tale and Gilead,” she said of the U.S. under Trump. 

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Ferguson will be carrying a sign outside stating, “Make Margaret Atwood fiction again.” She made it Saturday at a spur-of-the-moment event organized by her friend Suzanne Carol of Fargo. Carol said Trump’s tweeting insults at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the G7 summit in Quebec was “almost laughable.”

“He goes and hangs out with a brutal dictator and then wants to get into a fight with Canada,” she said. “It’s kind of the opposite of common sense.”

Dale Lundeen, 79, of West Fargo said Trump is “getting things done” and isn’t worried about a strained relationship with the U.S. deterring Canadians from travelling to North Dakota.

“I’ve been out to West Acres, and it didn’t seem to affect the Canadians shopping down there,” he said after buying pins from Goodart.

“You’re not going to turn this into fake news, are you?” joked Lundeen’s wife, who didn’t want to give her name.

John Pelletier was at West Acres mall in Fargo with his wife Tuesday, on their way home to Winnipeg after travelling to the Black Hills in South Dakota. He’s not boycotting the U.S., but said he doesn’t like how Trump is treating Canada.

“I think what Mr. Trump is doing is trying to screw up everybody and hold all the other countries down. He wants to grab everything for himself, for the States, which is no good,” Pelletier said. “I’m sure a lot of the American folks don’t agree with him. Some of them do, but some don’t. Especially close to the international border, it doesn’t help anybody.”

ADAM TREUSCH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Katie Ferguson of Moorhead, Minn., in an outfit, inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale, she plans to wear while protesting a rally by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Barry Wilfahrt, president of Grand Forks’ chamber of commerce, said Canadians make up about 15 to 20 per cent of the area’s retail sales and 20 to 25 per cent of its hotel stays. He said the main reasons fewer Manitobans have been shopping in North Dakota the past five or six years are the weak Canadian dollar and, to a lesser extent, Winnipeg adding some new retail stores.

“That’s had a significant impact,” Wilfahrt said. “With the exchange rate where it’s at, we have seen a decrease in the number of people coming down, and we’ve also seen a decrease in how much they spend when they’re down here, too.”

 

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Ottawa says Canadian travellers to North Dakota spend $160 million annually. In May, 22,443 regular vehicles — excluding semi-trailers and buses — entered North Dakota through the Pembina border crossing, compared with 21,986 the previous year, an increase of 2.08 per cent. The May 2017 numbers were down 13.18 per cent from 25,325 the previous May.

In March, the Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau, area hotels and West Acres teamed up for a promotion to entice Winnipeg travellers with discounted hotel-room prices matching the Canadian dollar. The mall, which says Canadian make up less than five per cent of its shoppers, contributed gift cards. About $10,000 was spent promoting the deal in Winnipeg, which resulted in roughly 200 room nights being booked on weekends that month.

ADAM TREUSCH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Brothers Bob Tanner (left) of Horace, N.D., and Ken Tanner of Texas bought the same T-shirts from peddler Michael Goodart of Springfield, Mo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2018 at his stand in a parking lot in Fargo, N.D., a day before U.S. President Donald Trump holds a rally there.

“Everyone involved is interested in doing it again,” Johnson said. “I’m not sure when we will, but it worked out pretty well.”

adamtreusch@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @adamtreusch

ADAM TREUSCH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Katie Ferguson of Moorhead, Minn., in an outfit, inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale, she plans to wear while protesting a rally by U.S. President Donald Trump.
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