Canadaâs âfull court pressâ on U.S. relations is one coordinated from the top and taken up by MPs of all political stripes ahead of North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations expected to begin next month.
âOur strategy is quite simply to work at all levels. We are doing everything reasonably possible to expand our relationship with the United States at every level,â said Liberal MP Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.), who is co-chair of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group.
He, like other Canadian officials, pushed back against reports that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) is going around Donald Trumpâs White House, pointing to the bilateral meeting with vice-president Mike Pence that coincided with Mr. Trudeauâs speech to governors on July 14 in Rhode Island.
âWe continue to work constructively with the Trump administration and with the United States Congress to advance mutual interests as well as our strong and prosperous partnership,â said Adam Austen, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.), in an emailed statement.
Since Mr. Trumpâs inauguration, there have been more than 175 visits and â300 individual contactsâ with senior U.S. officials and Canadian cabinet members, parliamentary secretaries, premiers and provincial and territorial ministers and Parliamentarians, according to data sent Monday by Ms. Freeland’s office.
Some 28 cabinet ministers and five parliamentary secretaries represent 95 of those interactions. Meetings have been with Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence, 17 U.S. cabinet members, 200 members of Congress, and more than 45 governors and lieutenant governors, with numbers expected to grow in the coming weeks, the office added. Washington represented the vast majority of meetings with 78, followed by New York with 18, and several spots in California made up eight visits.
Mondayâs late-day announcementÂ of negotiating objectives for the NAFTA by the United States Trade Representative started the next phase of the NAFTA talks, saidÂ Paul Frazer, a former high-level diplomat at Canada’s embassy in Washington.
âAt this stage we can guess about the public role many in the Congress will choose to have. All-in-all I am confident that the Canadian advocacy work in the U.S. will need to be maintained and adjusted where necessary,â said Mr. Frazer, president of PD Frazer Associates who advises clients on cross-border issues.
âIncluding deficit reduction as a U.S. goal signals that the president and his rhetoric will unavoidably be prominent; Ottawa and Mexico City will have to manage two tracks: the negotiation itself and the impact of the president’s actions/statements over the course of the negotiations.â
Export Action Global principal Adam Taylor highlighted several areas that âprovide a key line of sight into the Trump administrationâs thinking,â including: its fixation on trade deficits; sensitivities in agricultural trade; enshrining âBuy Americanâ policies; and raising Canadaâs de minimis threshold, a rule that slaps customs and duties on imported goods worth more than $20.
âWhile there are very few surprises, it is now clear that one personâs tweak is anotherâs transformation,â he said by email.
Canada will be ready for negotiations to âmodernize NAFTA, while defending Canada’s national interest and standing up for our values,â said Ms. Freeland in a statement Monday.
âCanada is the top customer of the United States. Canada buys more goods from the U.S. than China, Japan, and the United Kingdom combined.â
That messaging reflected Mr. Trudeauâs address at the National Governors Association meeting Fridayâa first for a Canadian leader.
Mr. Trudeauâs reception in Providence is one sign that Canadaâs messageâas Americaâs âbiggest and bestâ customerâis being noticed, and that the nation is less of an afterthought, said an official in Ms. Freelandâs office who said they could only speak on background.
Standing ovations at the summit, and the number of people who recognized Canadaâs prime minister, speak to the work done to build ties recently, the source said.
The month before, Canada sent Andrew Leslie (OrlĂ©ans, Ont.), parliamentary secretary to the foreign minister, to the Western Governorsâ Association meeting.
The official didnât confirm whether specific ministers were handed regional assignments,Â as reported by Vice News in May, but said some are a natural fit given their industries, like Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains’ (Mississauga-Malton, Ont.) connections to Michigan and its established auto and aerospace industries. Â
Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson said face-to-face interactions were the most effective form of free trade advocacy.
âItâs a contact sport,â said Mr. Robertson. âPersonal relationships are everything.â
âThere have been a whole series of efforts that [go] beyond traditionally how we approached the administration,” he said, adding there have been more minister-level meetings, such asÂ those between Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.) and his counterpart U.S. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin in February and again in June, accompanied by Ms. Freeland.
It was a smart strategy by Ms. Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.) to meet with U.S. officials before their respective policy speeches in February, he added.Â
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s (Regina-Wascana, Sask.) effort to build a relationship with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, the first of Trumpâs cabinet to come north, was also crucial, he said.
âThe homeland security side is really important, because thatâs Trumpâs base and so that relationship is very important,â he said, noting Mr. Kelly met with other key ministers.
An unusually large number of American officials are deciding they should make the trip north, Mr. Robertson noted. Recently Republican Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said heâd visit Canada this summer, leading a delegation of government and business representatives.
âI canât think of a time when weâve had that many in that short a period,â said Mr. Robertson.
Mr. Bains is one Canadian minister who has âundertaken significant outreach,â said spokesman Karl Sassevilleâmost notably in Michigan, Colorado, and California. And, while Mr. Trudeau was in Rhode Island, Mr. Bains met with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who has also met with Ms. Freeland to discuss issues like softwood and steel.
Mr. Bains has met with business leaders, governors, and other elected officials where he â[insisted] on the mutually-beneficial nature of the Canada-U.S. trade relationship,â said Mr. Sasseville.
The 10 other cabinet offices contacted deferred questions about their ministerâs role to Global Affairs Canadaâs Mr. Austen.
Ms. Freeland accompanied the prime minister to Providence, as did Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, whose government has fought against Buy American rhetoric, stressing the impact Canada has on various state economies, and warning that protectionist trade measures will harm more than help.
Global Affairs has helped to brief members of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group attending bilateral meetings with the latest issues and messages from the communications branch of the Prime Ministerâs Office, said Mr. Easter,
The PMO has also launched an unprecedented U.S.-relations âwar room,â led by Brian Clow, Ms. Freelandâs former chief of staff when she was international trade minister.
Conservative Senator Bob Runciman was among the group in Rhode Island last week, and said heâs also seen more attention paid to Canada-U.S. relations.
âItâs simply more a sense of urgency and a higher priority, given some of the things president Trump has said and veiled threats, if you will, in respect to tearing [NAFTA] up. I think thereâs a real full court press,â he said.Â
He said thereâs a real âteam feelingâ to the meetings, and agreed it was a good idea for Mr. Trudeau to reach out to governors, noting several key cabinet secretaries came from those ranks.
The Hill Times