The federal government has offered to renegotiate the North American free-trade agreement, a gesture of goodwill to Donald Trump as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to work “very closely” with the incoming president to foster greater continental prosperity.
Mr. Trump campaigned on upgrading the 1994 trade pact during the election and vowed to tear up the agreement if the U.S. isn’t able to get a better deal from Canada and Mexico.
The Prime Minister spoke with Mr. Trump Wednesday night and invited him to visit Canada.
David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to Washington, said that Mr. Trudeau is willing to sit down at the bargaining table with the Trump administration.
“If they want to have a discussion about improving NAFTA then we are ready to come to the table to try to put before the new administration anything that will benefit both Canada and the United States and obviously Mexico also,” Mr. MacNaughton said in a conference call with journalists. “So we are prepared to talk.”
The immediate effort to curry favour with the president-elect less than 24 hours after the U.S. vote is a significant move to develop a co-operative relationship with a leader who is Mr. Trudeau’s political opposite. Liberal MPs have also been told to avoid criticizing Mr. Trump, who is well aware the Trudeau government was opposed to his stunning victory.
A prominent Canadian business figure and long-time friend of Mr. Trump told The Globe and Mail that the Republican leader knows that Mr. Trudeau and his team were “in the tank” for Hillary Clinton and in regular contact with campaign manager John Podesta and other key Democratic operatives.
“Trump is very defensive. He remembers all the people who were against him. He knows that the only person in Canada who has openly supported him is Conrad Black,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He also knows the government of Canada was 100-per-cent opposed to him. So they are not starting with a position of strength.”
Mr. Trump apparently has few Canadian friends other than Mr. Black, the former media magnate, as well as former prime minister Brian Mulroney and his wife, Mila, who is also close to Melania Trump.
Mr. MacNaughton acknowledged the philosophical differences between the left-of centre Mr. Trudeau and the right-wing Mr. Trump, but insisted Canadian officials have worked assiduously over the past few months to build bridges.
“We have had many discussions with people involved in the Trump campaign and in the transition already,” he said, pointing to a “long and productive” conversation he had last month with Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, a close adviser to Mr. Trump.
But the source said Mr. Trudeau should send a special emissary to meet key players in the Trump campaign, citing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the head of the Trump White House transition team, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, National Republican Chairman Reince Preibus and former House speaker Newt Gringrich.
Mr. Trudeau should follow that up with a discreet visit to New York in December for a private and informal chat with Mr. Trump, who would appreciate the personal outreach, the source said.
Mr. Trudeau intends to use a congratulatory phone call to invite the president-elect to Canada soon after the Jan. 20 inauguration.
“It is traditional for U.S. presidents to make their first foreign visit to Canada and I think that would be something the Prime Minister and the president may talk about,” Mr. MacNaughton said.
In his first public comments on Mr. Trump’s electoral upset, Mr. Trudeau conceded the strong message coming from the election is for politicians to address everyday economic insecurities – manifest in rising protectionist sentiments and stagnant incomes.
“We have heard from Canadians and Americans that people want a fair shot at success, people want to know that their families, that their kids, their grandparents will be able to succeed.” Mr. Trudeau told a group of about 16,000 students attending WE Day, an education event celebrating young people. “I am going to work with president-elect Trump’s administration as we move forward … to build places where the middle class and those working hard to join it have a chance.”
Mr. Trudeau made no mention of his progressive policies on climate change and refugees that are in stark contrast to Mr. Trump’s call to deport millions of illegal immigrants, build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and abandon the historic Paris climate-change accord.
Nor did the Prime Minister talk about Mr. Trump’s pledge to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which was cancelled by the Obama administration during the last year of the Harper government.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper was quick to weigh in on the election outcome, sending out a tweet, congratulating Mr. Trump on his “impressive victory” and saying “there is much to do, including moving ahead with KXL”
“The Conservative Party of Canada calls on the Prime Minister to reach out to president-elect Trump at the earliest possible opportunity and make approval of this job-creating project a top priority,” added interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose.
In Montreal, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who had called Mr. Trump a “fascist” last March, called on the Prime Minister to stand up to Mr. Trump and the Republican-led congress.
“I think when you see the type of racist, sexist comments that were made by Mr. Trump during the campaign, those are things we don’t want here in Canada,” he told reporters.
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF — The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Nov. 09, 2016 9:11PM EST
Last updated Wednesday, Nov. 09, 2016 10:53PM EST