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British Columbia B.C. party leaders weigh in on Trump’s ‘Buy American’ program

Mr. Horgan said he hoped the federal government would exercise every tool at its disposal to protect B.C. interests.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

U.S. President Donald Trump's complaints about dairy-industry trade practices in Canada and support for a Buy American program has rippled into the B.C. election.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump accused Canada of "very unfair" dairy-industry trade practices. Canada's supply-management system for milk, eggs and poultry limits competition and places barriers on imports to ensure access to a steady market for Canadian producers.

Mr. Trump also signed an executive order tightening federal exemptions to "Buy American" policies, which compel the government to use the services of U.S. instead of foreign firms.

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BC NDP Leader John Horgan said he wasn't surprised by the President's "disconcerting" comments around both Buy American and renegotiating North American free-trade agreement.

Mr. Horgan said in an interview on his campaign bus that he hoped the federal government would exercise every tool at its disposal to protect B.C. interests.

"After May, I will be forcefully speaking with the Prime Minister and making sure that he hears that message," Mr. Horgan said.

"I have confidence that [Justin] Trudeau has got his eye on the ball and the federal government is going to work hard on this."

In Fort St. John in northeastern British Columbia, BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark said protectionism is bad for both Canadians and Americans.

During a campaign stop, Ms. Clark said U.S. consumers will face higher housing prices as a result of the latest softwood lumber dispute between the two countries.

But she said the Buy American push could have some positive impacts on B.C.

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"If part of the American plan on Buy American is to try to shut down their borders to people who can come in and bring their best ideas, I think that can only benefit the tech industry, for example, in places like Kelowna and Vancouver. You can't stop free trade in ideas … We are going to try to make the most of that opportunity if we can."

Mr. Trump is also looking for a broader negotiation of the North American free-trade agreement, he said Tuesday. At the same time, Canada is seeking a new deal on softwood – a vital sector in B.C.

Mr. Horgan and Ms. Clark have been at odds over how to secure a softwood deal – a necessity given the scale of the forestry sector in B.C.

Ms. Clark has said her government has been attentive to the file and that the chances of a deal are better now with Mr. Trump as president than with former president Barack Obama, who Ms. Clark has said was not committed to the file.

Mr. Horgan said in addition to trade issues ahead, there are other concerns with the United States, including the renewal of the Columbia River Treaty.

The 1964 agreement between Canada and the United States deals with the development and operation of dams on the upper basin of the Columbia River, which runs through British Columbia and the states of Washington and Oregon before emptying out into the Pacific. Work is under way on updating the agreement.

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"We're going to have to be very careful and cautious about how we proceed on that file," said Mr. Horgan.

"We have a real stake in that game as well."

The B.C. Dairy Association, representing Canada's third-largest dairy sector after Quebec and Ontario, said its 500 member dairies would be watching closely ahead of the May 9 election.

"These are early days. This being election season, regional dairy farmers will be paying close attention to what position the provincial party leaders take," spokesman Trevor Hargreaves said in an interview.

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