CALGARY â€” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his federal Liberal government will confront the reality of Donald Trump in the White House as his cabinet members gathered Sunday for a three-day retreat that is to include discussions with an adviser to the new president.
Up to now, Trudeau has had a relatively smooth ride guiding Canada’s relations with the U.S., thanks to being so simpatico with Barack Obama â€” natural allies on climate change, with a close personal relationship that oozed brotherly affection.
Now the Liberals are girding for a major reset with Washington, which is expected to be the main topic for Liberal ministers during their upcoming meetings.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Sunday that discussions will be held over the next few days including with Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the Blackstone Group investment firm appointed in December to lead the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum.
Dominic Barton, the head of the Trudeau government’s influential council of economic advisers, is also set to attend. Earlier this month, he cautioned that Trump’s pledges on trade and taxation must be taken seriously in Canada.
David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., said he’s been hearing from some businesses worried about the Trump’s “America First” stance.
“Obviously some of the rhetoric around protectionism is worrisome,” he said as he arrived in downtown Calgary for the retreat, where he is to update cabinet on discussions with the new U.S. administration.
“But I think generally, businesses have been positive and they have been saying the government’s doing the right thing in terms of reaching out and trying to find positive ways to improve the relationship.”
International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said he sought to stress the depth and breadth of the Canada-U.S. trade relationship to the Americans he met recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
But the discussions weren’t limited to Canada’s southern neighbour, he added.
“I can tell you when I was in Davos, everyone was looking at Canada,” he said. “When there’s uncertainty, people are looking for stability predictability and that’s what Canada has to offer.”
The Liberal government hopes to send a message to the Trump administration that Canada and the U.S. have a shared agenda, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said Sunday as he arrived at the Calgary retreat.
“We will have to see what the administration actually does,” he said.
“Many words have been spoken and there’s been tons of speculation, but we enter the relationship knowing that there is common ground in the energy sphere and we’ll look for it.”
Earlier Sunday in Washington, Trump said he had scheduled meetings with Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and signalled negotiations will have to begin on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“I ran a campaign somewhat based on NAFTA,” Trump said. “But we’re going to start renegotiating on NAFTA, on immigration, on security at the border.”
The date of the meeting between Trudeau and Trump has yet to be announced.
So far, the Liberals have reached out to the Trump transition team, “in order to begin conveying the importance of our economic partnership and the American interest in maintaining it,” said Roland Paris, Trudeau’s former foreign policy adviser. But now the real work starts with Trump taking over the White House.
“This is a big shift. It’s not just true for Canada but for every country in the world. We have a U.S. administration which is pursuing an approach which looks like it will be different from any U.S. administration in our lifetime.”
Trudeau has already shuffled his cabinet to adapt to Trump by appointing trade specialist Chrystia Freeland to Foreign Affairs, and retired general Andrew Leslie as her parliamentary secretary, thanks to his connection to a number of fellow former military commanders who got top jobs under Trump.
The Liberal government says it is seeking common ground with the Trump administration on promoting middle-class growth.
Prior to her promotion, Freeland was already making the rounds in Washington, talking to members of Congress and Trump’s transition team in her capacity as trade minister.
Freeland met with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, now a Trump adviser, as well as Schwarzman.
The Canadian Press