Is Canada Ready for Donald Trump?


As Donald Trump prepares to drop the “elect” description from his title and transitions into the Commander-in-Chief role, Canada should highlight the shared values between the two countries and not focus on the differences, former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Derek Burney advises.

“I don’t think we should be relaxed, I don’t think we should be complacent but I don’t think we should be setting our hair on fire either,” Burney told The House on mounting concerns about trade.

“Engage with the administration, find areas of common ground. That’s the best way to get attention in Washington for a Canadian government.”

When asked about Trump in a town hall Thursday night, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would never shy away from proclaiming himself a feminist, defending immigration or extolling the contribution of Muslim Canadians.

“Canadians expect their government to have a constructive working relationship with the incoming American administration, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” he said.

“At the same time, Canada is a separate country from the United States and there are things that we hold dear that the Americans haven’t prioritized.”

Burney, who served as Canada’s ambassador in Washington from 1989 to 1993, said the personal relationship between the president and the prime minister shouldn’t be underestimated.

“If we want to put the accent on the negative, we’ll pay the price. We should be putting the accent on the positive. On areas like energy, infrastructure, security,” he said.

“Especially with the Americans, personal relations are the most critical item in the diplomatic tool bag.”

That tone also needs to be set between key ministers, said the former chief of staff to then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Burney said the Canadian government is telegraphing its priorities by allowing new Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to hold on to the Canada-U.S. trade file.

“It’s recognition of her capabilities to handle a big load, because that’s going to be a very big load,” he said.

Former Canadian diplomat Paul Frazer said keeping a part of the trade file on her desk offers more than just continuity.

“As she calculates how to move on any particular file or where negotiations are, she can see how this affects other elements of the relationship, but she can also be one of the first to be aware of where there’s a lurking danger or a problem  that can be avoided,” he said.

Near the top of Freeland’s trade priorities could be renegotiating the North American Free Trade Act. Trump says he’d like to rip it up, while Trudeau says he’s open to renegotiating.

While the United Steelworkers officially endorsed Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential race, its president (a Canadian) concedes Trump’s message that he would protect jobs and renegotiate international trade deals like NAFTA appealed to a wide swath of his union’s 850,000 rank and file.

“What he did in this round was he took the agenda — and I say this both with some pride and some embarrassment — that we’ve been advocating  for 35 years about trade, about jobs, about investment, about infrastructure. What our members concluded is that this is the first guy who’s talking about our issues,” Leo Gerard said.

Gerard says he doesn’t believe Canada is a Trump target, underscoring how deeply integrated supply chains are between Canada and the US, and using his platform as the Steelworkers’ international president to argue that Canadian goods and products should be considered domestic content.

This week Rex Tillerman, the former Exxonmobil head tapped to be America’s top diplomat, was asked about his personal ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin during his confirmation hearing.

Freeland on the other hand is on Putin’s sanctions list.

“We’ll have to see how this plays out to be quite honest with you. I share the view that in all of these things right now we have to stand back and take a breath,” said Frazer.

The Washington-based lawyer said while Canada is sending troops into Latvia and the U.S. into Poland as part of their contribution to NATO, they should still try and find common ground with Moscow.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is cautioning Canadians not to get “too excited” about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s suggestion Canada should “phase out” the oilsands.

On Friday, Trudeau told a town hall in Peterborough, Ont., that “you can’t make a choice between what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy.”

“We can’t shut down the oilsands tomorrow. We need to phase them out,” he said.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said Trudeau should keep his comments to himself “when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Notley struck a different tone on The House.

“We have to remember, this is coming from a prime minister who’s just approved not one but two pipelines that are going to assist in our diversifying the markets to which we sell the product coming from the oilsands,” she said on the heels of British Columbia giving the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion the green light.

“At the end of the day, this is what I know to be true: the world market for oil is not going anywhere soon. So the job of Albertans, and the job of Canadians, is to make sure that that world market looks to the oilsands, as they should, as the first choice for where they get that product from.”

Donald Trump will no doubt dominate the spotlight next Friday, but in the shadow of the inauguration, Canada’s big city mayors will gather to talk about the big money they’d like to see in the upcoming federal budget.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, who also chairs of the big city mayors’ caucus, says while they’ll be watching where federal infrastructure money is headed, many cities are concerned about affordable housing funds.

“Where we really need to see bold investment is in transit and in housing… City building is nation building,” he told host Chris Hall. ”

“The housing file is of more  concern because we’ve heard much less… The problem is we’ve had governments backing away from the housing business in this country, including the federal government, for some time, ” said Toronto mayor John Tory.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says a large city like his grapples with both rural and urban housing problems.

“Housing is very much part of the planning and zoning and visioning of cities across the spectrum, and we have issues particularly of  renting affordability,” he said.

“We don’t have a national plan on housing and we should. It’s time.”

This week, Justin Trudeau hit the road to talk to ordinary people, but his cross-Canada  trip wasn’t enough to distract reporters, including our In House panel, from the trip he made to the Aga Khan’s private Bahamian island over the holidays.

John Geddes, the Ottawa bureau chief for Macleans, says the story likely would have faded if Trudeau hadn’t taken a private helicopter lift to the island, a clear line in the Conflict of Interest Act.

“This very clear line drawn in the beach sand, is one the prime minister decided to step over. Why would he do it?” he said.

“He created this distraction.”

Trudeau’s staff could have cleared the trip with the ethics commissioner beforehand, begging the question of why they didn’t, said The Globe and Mail’s Laura Stone

“This has happened a couple of times where the story has dragged out longer than it should. I think back even to the moving expenses from the prime minister’s office and these things come out in dribs and drabs,” she said.

“I don’t know why they don’t just nip it in the bud.”

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