Canadian diplomats have been speaking with advisers and congressional allies of former U.S. president Donald Trump to lay the groundwork for a strong relationship if Trump returns to the White House next year, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. says.
Those conversations have been positive, Ambassador Kirsten Hillman notes, and have not been informed by either Trump’s sometimes-frosty relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he was president, nor by Trudeau and the Liberals recently invoking Trump’s right-wing populism when referring to the Conservatives at home.
“I have not had anyone comment on that to me,” Hillman said when asked about Trudeau’s comments by Eric Sorensen in an interview that aired Sunday on The West Block.
“We tend to focus on results. We tend to focus really on, what (are) the policy issues that are core to Americans and Canadians?”
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Those results include the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement during Trump’s first term, which Hillman said is regarded by both American and Canadian officials as “a really important success.” She said politics are not playing into discussions on other shared priorities either.
“My experience is that on those local issues — economic security, environmental security, national security, food security — those are not partisan issues,” she said. “Both Democrats and Republicans want to assure those things for their voters and for their constituents.
“What we do is we talk about the issues. We talk about how those goals of theirs are enhanced by making sure that their partnership with Canada is as strong as it can be.”
Trudeau last month tasked Trade Minister Mary Ng and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne with collaborating with industry groups, civil society organizations and other levels of government in working on cross-border relations — part of a “Team Canada” approach to ensure relations are kept on track after November’s elections. Hillman and her team in Washington are another key part of the strategy.
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While Hillman made clear conversations are being had with both Republicans and Democrats to prepare for any result, the possibility of a second Trump term has become acute in recent weeks.
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A Reuters-Ipsos poll last month found Trump leads U.S. President Joe Biden 40 per cent to 34 per cent in a hypothetical matchup. Trump maintained his six-point lead over Biden in the poll when third-party candidates were included as options. Trump is currently dominating the Republican presidential primary and is widely expected to clinch the nomination as soon as March.
The poll also found three-quarters of voters believe Biden, 81, is too old to remain in government, compared to half of respondents who said the same about the 77-year-old Trump. Concerns about Biden’s age were further fueled last week when a special counsel report on an investigation into his handling of classified documents repeatedly mentioned Biden’s “poor” and “fuzzy” memory and “diminished faculties” as reasons why criminal charges shouldn’t be brought.
Meanwhile, the likelihood of Trump being convicted in any of the four criminal cases against him before the election has dimmed amid several judicial delays.
“We’re absolutely talking to Republicans that are advising former president Trump and to strategists that are advising him and, of course, to his allies in Congress and at the state level,” Hillman said when asked about the conversations.
Although Trudeau has said Trump “represents a certain amount of unpredictability” in the Canada-U.S. relationship and has negatively compared his policies with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, Hillman says she’s not focused on that — and neither are the people she speaks to.
“People who are supporters of President Trump are not distressed by being pointed out as being supporters of President Trump,” she said. “They’re proud to be supporters of President Trump.”
Those supporters are also proud of Trump’s policies, she adds, some of which she said “work well in the Canada-U.S. relationship” and “some of them don’t.” She did not specify which policies are which.
“The same thing is true of President Biden. There are some policies that he has that have been difficult for us,” she continued, also without specifying.
Trump’s Impact on Canada
Canada has previously objected publicly to Biden’s tax credits for electric vehicles that incentivized U.S. manufacturers — which were eventually amended to include Canadian companies — as well as the administration’s “Buy American” manufacturing strategy and continued tariffs on softwood lumber.
Hillman emphasizes that, despite the focus on who will occupy the White House come January, equal importance is being paid by her diplomatic team to forming and maintaining relationships with both parties in Congress, which will also be affected by the November elections. Eleven state governor’s races will also be decided, including in key border states Washington, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont and New Hampshire.
She also points to the recently-launched bipartisan American-Canadian Economy and Security Caucus in the U.S. Congress that’s focused on strengthening the Canada-U.S. relationship. The caucus has a membership of more than five dozen senators and representatives from all corners of the U.S., including Texas, Nevada, Maine and North Dakota.
“They couldn’t be more bullish on this relationship,” said Hillman, who met with the caucus at at the Canadian embassy last fall. “And I don’t think that should be a surprise to Canadians, because ultimately, Americans, regardless of the stripes, are deeply concerned about ensuring resilience in their country.”
Strengthening the Canada-U.S. relationship is particularly important given the current geopolitical climate, she adds.
“The world is really complicated right now,” she said.
“Given that the United States is our closest ally, our most important trading partner, our most important security partner, making sure this relationship is as strong as it possibly can be is job one.”
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