In The Media

Trump has 'unusually positive view' of Canada and things should 'go well,' top adviser says

by John Ivison (feat. David Perry)

National Post
January 23, 2017

The Trump administration has an “unusually positive view” of Canada and things should “go well” for this country, according to the new president’s chief economic adviser.

Stephen Schwarzman’s comments in Calgary were vaguely reassuring, in a “you’re liked, but not well-liked” kind of way. Yet, for a government that doesn’t appear to respect any of its peers — with the possible exception of Putin’s Russia — it was as good as it’s likely to get.

The Canadian government appears to have made friends with the Americans without having had to abandon its self-respect. It seems we will escape a new cross-border tax on exports and will not be targeted by other protectionist measures.

However, we are unlikely to emerge completely unscathed. Schwarzman talked about the need for “some modifications” in the re-negotiation of NAFTA.

And sources suggest the Trump administration has already made it clear that it is going to want a higher military contribution from Canada.

As the National Post reported last Thursday, the new dynamic has caused the Trudeau government to press “pause” on its plans to send a force to help a United Nations mission in Africa.

To the chagrin of the Germans and French, who have been pressing Canada to live up to the commitment it made to send 600 troops and 150 police officers to various peacekeeping missions in Africa, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan acknowledges that the landscape has changed since the commitment was made last summer.

“I can’t put a date to the decision yet,” he told the CBC. “I think it’s important to start discussions with the U.S. We need to discuss a lot of changes with our allies as well.”

The enthusiasm for sending forces to Mali, in particular, may also have been dampened by a suicide truck bomb at an army camp that killed 77 earlier this month.

The re-think has been prompted by comments made during the U.S. election campaign by the new president. Trump complained repeatedly that America’s NATO allies are not paying their fair share and that the “obsolete” organization is costing the U.S. too much.

Given the Americans pay 22 per cent of the common funding, compared to 15 per cent for Germany, 11 per cent for France and just 7 per cent for Canada, on this, if little else, he may have a point.

Canada is active in NATO — Justin Trudeau committed to putting $348 million toward a mission in the Baltics over three years, contributing 450 troops, armoured vehicles, a frigate and six CF-18s to the multi-national force in Latvia.

The problem for the prime minister is that his predecessor signed up for NATO’s “2-20” goal — two per cent of GDP to be spent on military and 20 per cent of that spending to be on capital investment, by 2024.

No one believes that first target will ever be met — it would mean more than doubling the existing defence budget.

But David Perry, senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, has pointed out that a relatively modest investment of $1 billion to $1.5 billion would see Canada hit the 20-per-cent investment target.

Perry suggested that the defence of the North American continent is likely among Trump’s most pressing concerns, so one way to curry favour in Washington would be to renew the airspace infrastructure that protects against incursions by hostile fighter jets. He pointed out that the existing system dates to the Cold War and consists of ground radar stations that are significantly out of date in the stealth jet era.

It’s not clear yet whether this type of move would preclude the African mission, for which Trump is unlikely to have much sympathy.

But defence sources say there would have to be a new pot of money, if defence infrastructure is to be upgraded.

Sajjan tweeted Monday that he had a “warm and cordial” call with U.S. Defence Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis.

Fortunately for Canada, there is a sense in the new administration that this country can be relied upon in times of crisis, in the way that other allies cannot.

Senior figures like chief strategist Steve Bannon, a former U.S. Navy officer, know the Canadian military and believe spending as a ratio of GDP is not an adequate measure of contribution.

Consequently, the smart move by the cash-strapped Trudeau government would be to suggest a role for which it is uniquely suited — and which, ideally, doesn’t cost a fortune.

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