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OTTAWA — With growing fears of a global tariff war, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has dispatched Winnipeg’s Jim Carr as his new trade minister.
"I think there’s no question that the international context is constantly changing," Trudeau told reporters Wednesday morning outside Rideau Hall.
Not since Lloyd Axworthy was foreign affairs minister in Jean Chrétien’s government, and leading Canada’s bid for a global ban on landmines, has a Manitoba politician been front and centre on the world stage.
"I think our potential is enormous," Carr said, moments after being named minister of international trade diversification. He’s now in charge of drumming-up foreign investment, inking new trade deals and convincing foreign companies to buy Canadian goods.
"I look forward to showing that Canada — the Canadian brand, Canadian values — are of interest to people around the world and on every continent."
Mariette Mulaire, chief executive officer of the World Trade Centre Winnipeg, said Carr was the right pick. "He presents himself well, he's worldly; he's someone who is quite smart, who knows his stuff well."
Her group holds four-day workshops on how Manitoba companies can export beyond the United States. She said 80 per cent of Manitoba companies that export only do so the U.S.
"With all the tariffs, all the stupidity going on there, the changes to this and that… it’s hard for businesses to craft a plan and know this is going to work with so much uncertainty," Mulaire said. "You gotta start looking elsewhere."
Carr had been minister of natural resources since Trudeau has named his first cabinet picks in November 2015.
Christopher Adams, a political scientist based at St. Paul's College at the University of Manitoba, said that role required handling tricky files with conflicting stakeholders, from TransCanada Corporation’s cancellation last October of the Energy East pipeline to May’s announced purchase of the Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, which is opposed by some environmental and Indigenous groups.
Wednesday’s news was greeted warmly by Winnipeg business leaders, such as Chuck Davidson, CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.
"I think Jim is going to be well-versed in those opportunities, on how to move forward," he said.
"I think this is further confidence being shown (by) the prime minister that he is a key member of that cabinet. The fact that he is in Manitoba is good for Manitoba's profile; it's good for Winnipeg and I think, in the end, it's good for Canada as well."
Even Progressive Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt had praise for Carr:
"I think he's a talented minister; there's no question about it. He should have stayed in Natural Resources; I think people would have been a lot more comfortable with his grasp on the file," she said. "For all intents and purposes, Minister Carr was well-liked by his stakeholders and they felt that he was a good voice."
Raitt speculated Trudeau swapped Carr because he had too forcefully promised the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will get built, which she believes Trudeau won’t be able to achieve.
She painted his replacement, Amarjeet Sohi, as having "no track record" during his term as infrastructure minister, claiming he’d not seen anything get built — though the Liberals’ spending on the file has focused on multi-year projects.
Carr himself said he’ll focus on "creating relationships" to build "a two-way street" for investment and trade. "My job is to look at the world as a place where Canada can increasingly be important."
Trudeau noted his government had signed trade deals with the European Union and east Asia — though numerous countries still have to ratify both those agreements. He specifically cited "more trade deals with South America," while Carr mentioned the same continent, and how he’d visited Argentina a few months ago as part of the G20 energy ministers’ meeting.
Davidson said Latin America is a natural focus for Ottawa, given Western economies have focused on the so-called BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — with the Liberals already trying to boost trade with the latter two, though with limited success, and having icy relations with Russia.
Carr will be tasked with seeing through trade deals amid a rising skepticism about globalization that has permeated the Western world, though to a much lesser extent in Canada. Labour groups have supported the recent North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations, but expressed concerns that other deals will undercut wages and job security.
"We have to make sure that the benefits of those trade deals are being felt by citizens, by workers, by small businesses, by entrepreneurs, by consumers," Trudeau said.
Adams said Carr’s new role could have positive spinoffs for the province.
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"It’s quite impressive that he’s achieved this, as a minister," he said, comparing Carr’s significance to both Axworthy and former premier Gary Doer, who served as ambassador to the U.S. "It’s not like he's in a minor ministerial post."
Adams noted Manitoba businesses are trying to boost their canola sales to China, and marketing pork overseas. "It's good to have a regional minister, also in a portfolio that has significance for Manitoba, in terms of our exports."
Trudeau has decided to keep negotiations of NAFTA in the hands of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and tasked an Ontario MP with "export promotion." Though Trudeau’s mandate letters won’t come for a few weeks, Carr’s duties will likely include making headway on new trade deals and overseeing efforts to connect Canadian businesses with markets that have agreed to more trade in recent years.
The prime minister said he spread out the trade file to different ministers because of ongoing NAFTA woes.
"There is certainly a level of clarity — for Canadians, for businesses, for everyone across this country — that we need to diversify our markets. We need to ensure that we are not as dependent on the United States."
Winnipeg South Centre MP Jim Carr remains the sole Manitoban in the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet (he removed MaryAnn Mihychuk in January 2017). The past year has seen Carr shepherd the government’s delicate relationship with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Ottawa’s much-scrutinized handling of issues imparting the northern town of Churchill.
Though his new role likely means travelling overseas more often, Carr insisted it won’t keep him from following issues in Manitoba.
“Winnipeg is where I want to be. Increasingly I'll be at home; I'll make sure of that,” Carr said Wednesday, describing it as a balancing act. “You make sure that travel is strategic. You go to places where you can do the best job for Canada.”
Tory deputy leader Lisa Raitt was less convinced, saying her Conservative colleagues will hone in on Manitoba ridings while Carr is abroad on trade missions.
“It would be a very difficult decision for a minister to want to leave their riding this close to a federal election (2019), given the fact that (provincially, Manitoba voted) conservative, and there are so many hot files in that area,” she said.