Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, speaking in Halifax last week on Canada’s relationship with the United States, didn’t mince words when it came to boiling trade disputes between the two countries.

On both the softwood lumber dispute and the new American farm bill, which provides huge subsidies to U.S. farmers, the United States is hurting not only its neighbours and trading partners, but also Americans themselves, he said.

“We will continue to challenge these U.S. policies until fair remedies are found, whether by negotiation or litigation.”

Mr. Manley was speaking at the Economic Leadership Speaker Series, jointly presented by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), Corporate Research Associates, Deloitte & Touche and the Greater Halifax Partnership.

Canada has already filed complaints with the World Trade Organization and under NAFTA. Mr. Manley sounded firm about pursuing legal action if better deals cannot be worked out, despite the time-consuming, costly process this would entail.

It’s about time. On softwood lumber, Canada has made virtually no progress by repeatedly caving in to U.S. negotiating efforts that have offered low-ball deals, only to have the matter resurface with subsequent challenges against our lumber.

In the few instances when Canada has pursued the formal dispute resolution mechanisms, Canada has been victorious.

The deputy prime minister says the farm bill “which returns the U.S. to old-style protectionism and government intervention, adds a new layer of inefficiency, dependency and lack of stimulus for innovation in their own domestic U.S. market.”

While attempts to avoid an all-out trade war with the U.S. has understandably driven Canada’s strategy to date, it is time to separate these disputed issues as much as possible and, if necessary, stick to the formal process in order to achieve the fair settlements to which this country is entitled under its trade agreements. This has already been shown to be a more effective route.

Mr. Manley seems ready to make this happen.

“We will continue to challenge these U.S. policies until fair remedies are found, whether by negotiation or litigation,” he told his Halifax audience. “Free and fair trade will prevail.”

After years of listening to a powerful neighbour that talks the talk before thumbing its nose at Canada, wouldn’t free and fair trade be refreshing?