OTTAWA — Another thorny irritant has emerged in Canada-United States relations as Ottawa announced it would employ a rarely-used measure to confront Washington over Buy America rules in a construction project in Prince Rupert, B.C.
International Trade Minister Ed Fast said Monday the Canadian government would invoke the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act to keep bidders on the project from agreeing to use only U.S.-made steel as mandated under Buy American purchasing requirements.
“We have been clear: The application of protectionist Buy America provisions on Canadian soil is unacceptable and an affront to Canadian sovereignty,” Fast said.
“We are disappointed by the state of Alaska’s decision not to seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding these (Buy America) provisions,” Fast said. “A waiver would have resolved this issue in a manner that would have allowed this project to move forward without delay.”
The project is a $15 million renovation of the ferry terminal on Canadian government-owned land in Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia near the border with Alaska. The Alaska transportation department, which recently secured a 50-year lease on the terminal from Prince Rupert authorities, is paying for the construction. Alaska is now taking bids from construction companies, which have been advised all iron and steel used in the project must be American-made.
The confrontation comes at a time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s dealings with the Obama administration have hit a low point in the wake of the U.S. government’s postponement of a decision on whether to allow construction of a pipeline to carry crude oil from Alberta into the U.S.
Buy America rules have been a cause for tension between Canada and the U.S. in recent years. But the requirement to use U.S. materials in a construction on Canadian soil appears likely to be fiercely contended.
“This is our country, it is our land, it is our port, it is our laws and the Americans are building a facility here in Canada, in our province, where we aren’t allowed to have a chance to supply or fabricate the steel. That’s just wrong.” B.C. Premier Christy Clark said recently.
In a statement, Fast said, “We remain committed to working with our U.S. partners to resolve this unacceptable situation and call on them to seek a waiver of the Buy America restrictions.
“However, we are prepared to exercise this order to defend Canadian interests,” he said.
The Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act has only been used once before. It was invoked in the early 1990s when the U.S. government tried to prevent the subsidiaries of U.S. companies in Canada from engaging in trade and commerce with Cuba.