Trudeau-Trump will be no 'bromance'

by Colin Robertson

The Globe and Mail
November 11, 2016

This week’s election result surprised most Canadians, but now we need to prepare for a Trump administration.

The kind of “bromance” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau developed with U.S. President Barack Obama is unlikely to be repeated. Nevertheless, Mr. Trudeau needs to personally lead Canadian efforts to exercise, as he once put it, “effective influence” in Donald Trump’s Washington in order to advance Canadian objectives.

Premiers and legislators have to help. Our political leadership needs to reach out to Mr. Trump’s transition team and to Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress and in the States. Business and labour leaders need to step up with their counterparts to underline the shared value of our “strong integrated economies.”

Our message is simple: An integrated North American (including Mexican) approach to economic development, especially around energy, serves our mutual interests. Canadian outreach means identifying and calling our American friends to action.

Mr. Trump’s campaign agenda was mostly delivered in broad strokes. Now, we need to register our positions to help shape his administration’s policy direction. Rather than trying to boil the ocean, our efforts should focus on three areas:

  • Security: Mr. Trump expects North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies to pull their weight.
  • Trade: Mr. Trump wants a revision of the North American free-trade agreement because of American job losses.
  • Energy: Mr. Trump calls for more drilling of fossil fuels, fewer regulations and withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

On trade, we need to remind Mr. Trump’s team that Canadian trade and investment is behind an estimated nine million American jobs. Nearly 80 per cent of what Canada sells to the United States goes into American-made goods and services.

Mr. Trump wants an ambitious infrastructure building program. We need to figure out how to integrate our governments’ infrastructure programs into this effort and so improve our mutual competitiveness.

The message on burden-sharing is not new, although Mr. Trump delivers it in his characteristic blunt fashion. We need to look anew at the defence review, especially the pace and scope of our figher-jet replacement and fleet renewal. Reaching the NATO spending target is important. U.S. national security leadership will confirm that co-operation between our military, security and intelligence services is excellent. We are also contributing to the campaign against the Islamic State, putting boots on the ground in Latvia and reinvigorating Canadian peace operations.

On energy, Mr. Trump promises approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. We need to persuade his team to look at energy as a continental resource that, if we manage it well, will fuel the manufacturing renaissance he wants to create.

While Mr. Trump may not be immediately receptive, there are allies in Congress who support continuing collaboration on clean energy because it makes sense and creates jobs. Meantime, we need to move on pipelines to tidewater within Canada so we can get full value from our natural inheritance.

At his first meeting with Mr. Trump, Mr. Trudeau must avoid falling into what former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice described as the Canadian penchant for focusing on “condominium issues,” and instead focus on getting to know one another.

If we have one ask, it should be to continue the North American energy ministers’ meetings. It has been a successful catalyst for practical action. Leave the “transactionals” for later discussions at the ministerial and ambassadorial level.

The byword going forward, for federal and provincial governments, should be constant engagement with their counterparts in the United States. The best way to shield ourselves from populism and protectionism is by personally making our case to Americans.

Success will depend on cultivating and sustaining relationships at all levels through a thousand points of contact. For example, Canadian premiers and legislators should attend inaugurations for the new governors, especially those elected in the five border-state elections. Canadian parliamentarians, business and labour leaders should plan to head south for the presidential inauguration and then join Americans to watch the parade from the Canadian embassy. Our snowbirds need to remind their American friends how Canada supports their security and how our trade and investment creates their jobs.

To help better understand the public mood that led so many Americans to vote for Mr. Trump, read J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. One astute former U.S. ambassador has observed that Canadians think that they know all they need to know about the United States, while Americans think they know all they need to know about Canada – but we are both wrong.

As Canadians learned again this week, there is still a lot we need to learn and understand about our southern neighbours – and, just as important, that we need to help them understand about us.

Colin Robertson is a former diplomat and vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

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