Kathleen Wynne is the Premier of Ontario
When our elected representatives swear an oath of allegiance in Ontario's legislature, they are making a commitment to put the people of our province first. On Sunday, I sent a letter to the leaders of the Conservatives and NDP calling for their members to honour that commitment by supporting Bill 194, the Fairness in Procurement Act.
We are swimming against a rising tide of protectionist sentiment in the United States – a current that only grew stronger last week with U.S. President Donald Trump's wrong-headed attack on the steel and aluminum industries. While we don't yet know the impact these proposed new tariffs will have on Ontario workers, they are just the latest in a disturbing trend of protectionist actions that threaten Ontario.
Whether we're talking about the ongoing uncertainty over NAFTA or the emergence of "Buy American" laws at the state level, the free and fair trade upon which our businesses depend is at risk. In these uncertain times, we need to stand up for our workers and businesses. And the best way to do that is by putting partisan games aside and presenting a united front.
The proposed Fairness in Procurement Act is one arrow in our quiver. It would enable Ontario to take a measured response when states like New York or Texas bring forward "Buy American" policies that tilt the playing field in their favour. Our U.S. partners need to know that we will not sit idly by while they dismantle the foundations of our shared prosperity. They need to know that protectionism leads nowhere. But by delaying and casting doubt on this important and timely legislation, the other parties are sending U.S. leaders a mixed message. The Conservatives and NDP are playing politics at a time when we can least afford it.
Bill 194 is part of a broad and ongoing U.S. engagement strategy that our government is implementing. It includes extensive outreach on my part. Over the last year, I have met with 37 governors and dozens of Congress people, senators and senior members of the U.S. administration. I am making sure they understand exactly what is at stake.
For the majority of the governors I have met with, Ontario is their state's top customer. We are the top customer for 20 states and number two for another eight. Millions of jobs on both sides of the border depend on NAFTA.
The U.S. leaders I am meeting with appreciate that our partnership creates jobs. That's good news. But as these meetings have made clear, the jobs and opportunities that have been created under NAFTA are not always enough to steer U.S. politicians away from protectionist populism. There are myriad forces at play in the United States right now and we need all the leverage we can get. This is where Bill 194 comes in and why all party support is essential.
When New York State first proposed "Buy American" provisions in its budget last year, the rules were extremely punitive to Ontario and would have given New York businesses an unfair advantage. I sent some of my most senior ministers to Albany to lobby against it. We were crystal clear that if they went ahead, we would respond.
Initially, New York State was receptive. They backed down. But late last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a different piece of Buy American legislation into law and it is set to take effect on April 1. Texas has passed similar legislation.
It would be irresponsible of us to allow businesses in New York or Texas to continue winning public procurement contracts in Ontario while our own businesses are shut out from similar opportunities in those states. This is why we need to pass the Fairness in Procurement Act. It will act as a powerful deterrent and, as a last resort, would allow us to level the playing field.
But just as important as the ability for Ontario to take responsive actions under Bill 194 is the message that we can send: that in the face of U.S. protectionism, Ontario's political leadership is united. That no matter our party affiliation, we will always stand up for fair and free trade, because the well-being of our people depends on it.
This bill is about the people we all represent. Their jobs. Their future. As Premier, it is my responsibility to stand up when Ontario's interests are threatened – but is not my responsibility alone. It is one I share with every member of the house. All MPPs must do their part and support Bill 194.