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‘They need us,’ Ontario’s Duguid says on trade with U.S. after Trump win

Brad Duguid is seen at a news conference in an undated file photo.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

A senior Ontario cabinet minister says it's too soon to worry about Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric against NAFTA and other trade agreements.

Trump promised during the U.S. presidential election campaign that he would repeal or renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he called "the worst trade deal in history."

Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid says the U.S. president-elect can't achieve his economic goals without "vibrant and fluent trade" with Ontario and Canada.

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"I'm not at all convinced that the rhetoric we heard in the campaign will transfer into problems for Ontario or Canada," Duguid said in a speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto Wednesday.

"I'm not ignoring it either, just trying to keep it in perspective now that I've had the opportunity to emotionally remove myself from the result."

Duguid said Canada and the U.S. do $687 billion in trade each year, and half of that comes from Ontario alone.

"Make no mistake," he said. "They need us nearly as much as we need them."

Ontario has gained 641,000 net new jobs since the recession, unemployment is 6.4 per cent — below the national average for 18 consecutive months — and the province's GDP is forecast to be 2.5 per cent this year, leading the G7.

"So there's really no way to argue against the fact that Ontario's economy overall is strong and growing," said Duguid.

Some people have good reason to feel they've been left behind "because they have," said Duguid, especially those that used to work in the manufacturing sector that was hard hit during the recession.

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"There are many blue-collar and service workers who lost their good-paying jobs in the last recession...and are still outside the labour market," he said.

The fact that the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 4.9 per cent under President Barack Obama didn't seem to matter on election day, added Duguid.

"I believe that Donald Trump's campaign struck a chord with Americans who feel disconnected from the economic growth others are experiencing. "I think we can learn from that."

A lot of Canadians were "knocked a little off balance" by Trump's election win last week, but it's "important that we quickly regain our footing," said Duguid.

Incumbent governments everywhere must recognize "there is a real fundamental disconnect between what many folks are feeling and the economic indicators," warned Duguid.

"Many folks are feeling anxious about their place in this new economy, and the prospects for them and their children," he said. "We'd be foolish to assume that this anxiety isn't present in our own backyard."

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There's no rolling back the clock to the good old days, so Ontario and Canada will "plan, build and excel to be leaders in the good new days ahead," said Duguid.

"At the same time, we cannot leave behind those folks who are disconnected or frightened by the new economy," he said. "We must ensure they have a voice."

The minister announced a $29-million Small Business Innovation Challenge pilot program to help Ontario-based small and medium-sized companies.

"We're investing to encourage businesses in Ontario to provide cutting edge solutions to the problems we face in government, whether it's clean technology, smart infrastructure or digital economy solutions."

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