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Howard Dean: Scrapping NAFTA Would 'Hurt America As Much As Canada'

Trump's win holds important lesson for progressive parties, he says.

OTTAWA — Howard Dean, a former presidential candidate, is advising Democrats to tone down their rhetoric when it comes to global trade pacts.

The former Vermont governor noted that treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other forms of globalization helped lift a billion people out of poverty and that, while some parts of the United States have suffered disproportionately, others have benefited.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 26, 2016. (Photo: Scott Applewhite/AP via CP)

Dean is open to renegotiating NAFTA but told The Huffington Post Canada during an interview on the sidelines of the Canadian American Business Council Wednesday that scrapping the deal completely would be “crazy.”

“It’s going to hurt America as much as Canada,” he said.

Dean said he’s not sure what parts of NAFTA should be renegotiated — he does not profess to be a trade policy expert — but he trumpeted the benefits of trade.

Free trade cost jobs in Ohio and Iowa, but it also created jobs, particularly agricultural jobs, in North Carolina and up and down the East and West coasts, he said.

Automation a vexing issue

“Have they cost us manufacturing jobs? No, they certainly have not.”

“What’s hurt our economy much more than NAFTA is the gross failure of us to redistribute wealth properly,” said Dean, who is also running to be the next Democratic National Committee chair, a job he held for four years between 2005 and 2009.

Another big problem is automation, he said, “which nobody knows what to do about.

“Automation is by far taking more jobs out of the auto industry than NAFTA has.”

"Most of the people who voted for Donald Trump are not racists or bigots, or anything of the sort. What they want is real change and they haven’t gotten it for a very long time."

The 2016 U.S. elections, which cast further light on the plight of working people, hold an important lesson for other progressive parties on the left, the Democrat suggested.

“Most of the people who voted for Donald Trump are not racists or bigots, or anything of the sort. What they want is real change and they haven’t gotten it for a very long time,” he said, noting the large number of people who lost their jobs or don’t have a college education who voted for the Republican presidential candidate.

“It is very, very hard to get a job in the new economy unless you are digital native or unless you have a pretty high education level,” he said. People lacking those qualifications “are the people that we should be looking at and trying to make sure that they can still get a fair break in this country.

“It is not ‘Make America Great Again’; it is ‘Make America Fair Again’ that should be our slogan.”

'I’m not opposed to people being rich'

Democrats should focus on improving schooling, ensuring everyone has health insurance and dealing with the opioid crisis that is destroying rural America, he said. But first, he suggested, the party should focus on ensuring the tax code is fair.

“I’m not opposed to people being rich in this country. What I am opposed to is having all the money go to people who push paper and none of the money go to people who work with their hands.”

Dean argued that Democrats in Congress should work with Trump to get joint priorities through, such as massive infrastructure investments through public-private partnerships.

“That is the right way to do it instead of adding $5 trillion to the debt … [and] instead of hoping the states can finance it, ‘cause they can’t.” he said.

Backs Trump's infrastructure pledge

The federal Liberals are also planning to invest in infrastructure using private capital. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government met this week with banks, pension funds, and foreign hedge funds, hoping to leverage their billions for much-needed investments in transit, roads, bridges and municipal water projects. The Grits are also studying private ownership of Canada’s ports and airports.

“Donald Trump has proposed some things that make sense,” Dean said, pointing to the president-elect’s massive infrastructure pledge. “I don’t think we should oppose any idea that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth just because it’s Donald Trump.”

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