About Colin Robertson

A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is a Senior Advisor to Dentons LLP living in Ottawa, Canada and working with the Business Council of Canada. He is Vice President and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.  He is an Executive Fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. He is on the advisory councils of the  Conference of Defence Associations Institute and the North  American Research Partnership. He is an Honorary Captain (Royal Canadian Navy) assigned to the Strategic Communications Directorate. He writes a column every two weeks on foreign affairs for  the Globe and Mail and he is a regular contributor to other media.

Colin can be reached by email at cr@colinrobertson.ca

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NAFTA , Trump and Trade

Trump wants to overhaul NAFTA? Bring it on

Colin Robertson

The Globe and Mail Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2016

President-elect Trump wants to “renegotiate” NAFTA. Bring it on.

The gains we made from NAFTA (1993), spectacular during its first decade, have mostly plateaued. The Trans Pacific Partnership agreement would have updated our continental accord but now that Mr. Trump has shelved it, re-opening NAFTA makes sense.

For Canada, a North American economic pact is vital. The U.S., our biggest trading partner since the Second World War, currently accounts for about 75 per cent of our trade. Our trade with Mexico has grown sixfold since NAFTA.

For Canada, our main objective in re-opening NAFTA should be the freer movement of people, goods and investment within North America. Last year more than $700-billion in goods flowed across our southern frontier and more than 150 million people crossed our shared border by land, air and water.

As with any negotiation, to get we have to be prepared to give. Let’s be bold. Let’s put our costly dairy supply-management, a perennial U.S. target, on the table in return for better procurement access, including shipbuilding.

Last week’s Auditor General’s report on the Beyond-the-Border Action Plan – the latest in a series of initiatives aimed at improving border access – identified shortcomings that should be Canadian priorities with U.S. negotiators. The Entry/Exit and trusted traveller programs, including customs self-assessment and the Single Window initiative, are all behind schedule. Some of this is our responsibility but we also need to see more openness to change from the U.S.

Despite recent efforts at regulatory reform, our supply chains still suffer from the “tyranny of small differences.” Regulatory reform could benefit from a Trump re-boot.

The provinces, who were not in the room for the NAFTA negotiation, should be full partners in the coming sessions because many of the necessary improvements fall under their jurisdiction. The premiers should reach out to their governor counterparts with specific proposals around reciprocity for procurement, especially given Mr. Trump’s promised “Big Build” program.

The North American advantage is our people and a new trade accord should include:

  • Bringing the list of professions eligible for fast-track cross-border access into the digital age. The skilled trades workers who are enabling North American energy independence also need to move back and forth with ease.
  • Speeding up the re-qualification system for professionals needed on the job now.

Mr. Trump wants a better deal for American workers.

Main Street America never appreciated the value of NAFTA in part because U.S. leaders did a lousy job in explaining – and sharing – the value of continental trade while failing to adequately help those left behind through global competition and technological changes.

We did it better in Canada but an overhaul of the NAFTA accord on Labour Cooperation is in the interests of all three countries. Why not make a joint commitment to adjustment assistance and retraining as a basic right for workers?

Mr. Trump’s promise to build a wall and to increase deportations to Mexico has led some to wonder whether we’d be better to go it alone with the U.S. leaving Mexico to fend for itself. Divide and conquer is integral to Mr. Trump’s Art of the Deal. Working with Mexico will avoid that trap.

Mexico is now our third largest trading partner. We have major investments in Mexico and, with a middle class of 44 million people, Mexico is a market that will only increase. By 2050, Mexico is expected to rank fifth in global economic weight.

Mr. Trump wants another look at country-of-origin-labelling (COOL), a protectionist measure that curtailed our meat exports. Working closely with Mexico, our joint efforts resulted in Congress repealing COOL last December.

On COOL and those many issues where Canada and Mexico share common cause – including trade, climate and energy – we need to continue working together. On the border and security, we will diverge at times, reflecting our own interests but we should work in tandem. Our shared and overriding principle with Mexico should be no surprises and constant communication at all levels.

Re-opening a deal that is past its best-before date is an opportunity that all three nations should embrace. It’s time to bring NAFTA into the digital age.

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

NAFTA and Trump: a Discussion on the Future of Trade

On today’s ‘Global Exchange‘ Podcast, we invited two experts on trade to discuss the implications of a Trump Presidency for NAFTA, TPP, and the status-quo trade regime as it stands today. Join Colin, John Weekes, and Rob Wright as they probe the future of trade in an era of rising populism and protectionism.


  • Colin Robertson (host) A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is Vice President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a Senior Advisor to Dentons LLP.
  • Rob Wright – Rob Wright served as Canadian Ambassador to China from 2005-2009, and as Ambassador to Japan from 2001-2005. From 1995-2001 he was the Canadian Deputy Minister for International Trade.
  • John Weekes – Canada’s ambassador to the WTO from 1995-99 and a chief negotiator of the NAFTA trade agreement.

Related Links:


Nanos Survey on Canada-US Relations post Trump election


CTV News exclusive: 2 in 3 Canadians back Trump on Keystone, NATO

CTV News http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1009045
Screen Shot 2016-12-04 at 10.22.32 AM
A CTV exclusive poll shows many Canadians support some of Trump’s campaign promises, from Keystone to NATO. Glen McGregor has the numbers.
CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Saturday, December 3, 2016 9:59PM EST

A new poll conducted for CTV News suggests about two in three Canadians are on board with Donald Trump’s proposal to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and the same proportion agree with the president-elect that Canada should contribute its “fair share” to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

At the same time, the Nanos Research poll found strong support for the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that Trump has vowed to scrap or re-negotiate, and little appetite for the idea of Canada making special provisions for illegal immigrants he deports.

Here are the highlights from the survey of 1,000 adult Canadians that was conducted in late November.

Keystone XL

Nearly two in three (63 per cent) survey respondents either agreed or somewhat agreed that approval “of the Keystone XL pipeline which connects the oil sands to the U.S. market would be good news for Canada.” About one in three (32 per cent) either disagreed or somewhat disagreed, according to the pollster.

The plan for the 1,900-km pipeline from Alberta to refineries in the southern U.S. was quashed by U.S. President Barack Obama just over one year ago, despite support from a politically-diverse group of Canadian leaders including Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose and NDP Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

In May, Trump told reporters he would “absolutely approve” the pipeline, but added he would want America to get “a piece of the profits.”

Defence spending

On NATO, Trump has repeatedly said the U.S. is paying more than its fair share for the mutual defence pact put in place to protect North America and Europe, calling it “unfair” and a “rip off.” President Obama has also chided Canada for not contributing its “fair share,” which the 28-nation bloc defines as two per cent of GDP. The U.S. spends far more than that – 3.5 per cent. France and Britain meet the target. Canada spends only one per cent.

The survey found about two in three (63 per cent) agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement “Canada should increase defence spending so that it pays its fair share of military costs as part of NATO.” About one in three (32 per cent) disagreed or somewhat disagreed. Five per cent said they were unsure.

NAFTA’s impact

Nanos also asked: “Do you think the Canadian economy is better off, worse off or there has been no impact because of the North America Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico?”

Nearly six in 10 (57 per cent) said NAFTA has left Canada better off, while only one in five agreed it left Canada worse off. Meanwhile, 18 per cent said they were unsure and six per cent said it had no impact.

The results suggest growing support for NAFTA since the same question was asked in Sept. 2012. At that time, only 28 per cent said the pact had left Canada better off, compared to 26 per cent who said it left Canada worse off, 16 per cent who said it had no impact and 30 per cent who said they were unsure.

Acceptance of illegal aliens

Donald Trump’s vow to deport 11 million illegal immigrants from the United States could send many knocking on Canada’s door. But, the Nanos poll suggests, most Canadians would not accept “making special provisions to accept illegal aliens who may be deported from the United States.”

Only about one in three (32 per cent) agreed or somewhat agreed with the idea of making special provisions for those deported, while about six in 10 (61 per cent) either disagreed or somewhat disagreed. Seven per cent were unsure.


Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,000 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between Nov. 26 and 30 as part of an omnibus survey. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online.

The margin of error for a random survey of 1,000 Canadians is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


Softwood Lumber

Commentary | From Log Export Restrictions to a Market-Based Future: Towards an Enduring Canada-U.S. Softwood Agreement

Former trade policy negotiator Eric Miller provides an incisive analysis for an enduring Canada-U.S. softwood agreement, with a response by former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson.

– See more at: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/commentary-log-export-restrictions-to-market-based-future-towards-enduring-canada-us#sthash.b9cciDVH.dpuf

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Defending the Dominion of Canadfa

The price of Canadian security is about to go up

The premiums we pay for Canadian defence and security are about to go up.

Donald Trump’s election coincides with rising global risks: a fracturing global order with the potential for great power conflict and socioeconomic fraying within states. If the allies want continued U.S. protection, says Mr. Trump, then they have to pay their “fair share”.

For 70 years, Western governments have enjoyed the security of Pax Americana. On the high seas, the vigilant watch of the U.S. Navy has enabled a vast expansion in global trade. Secure sea lanes will matter even more to Canada as we diversify our trade across the Pacific and Atlantic.

Mr. Trump sees collective security as a transactional arrangement: give to get. Allies are expected to carry more of the burden.

That was evident this past weekend at the Halifax International Security Forum, a very smart Canadian initiative now in its eighth year. The U.S. congressional delegation that included Senators John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Services committee, and Tim Kaine, running mate to Hillary Clinton, reiterated the message on burden-sharing. This message was echoed by British Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon and underlined by Rose Gottemoeller, NATO’s new deputy secretary-general.

More money for defence is bad news for Western finance ministers facing slower growth (with less revenues) and rising social costs.

This new reality is a cold shower on Trudeau government’s defence review.

The review had been coasting along toward reinvigorated peace operations, a reaffirmation of collective security (with troops dispatched to Latvia) and a confirmation of the Harper government’s rearmament program, with some nuances, around procurement of fighter jets (with the Super Hornets as a stop-gap) and warships.

These commitments would push spending to around 1.3 per cent of GDP (from our current .99 per cent). But it would still leave us far short of the 2 per cent that NATO members commit to spend on defence.

Mr. Trump and the Alliance expect us to do more. They want more capability and capacity. They see rust-out and an inability to deliver on previous promises. They will want to see a blueprint on how we will get there.

Our first step must be to fix the operating system around procurements. The system is broken. We have tied ourselves in red tape, lapsing billions each year. There is insufficient staff to do acquisitions.

We should look to British and U.S. experience to get best value through performance-based logistics.

In terms of new investment, the Trudeau government’s first instinct will be to double down on peace operations. If so, then build on the ‘train, advice and assist’ approach suggested by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance. It puts the emphasis on interoperability and embedding Canadian trainers, before and after deployment, with those African and Asian nations that now provide the bulk of peacekeepers.

New security investments should be risk-based and should include the following priorities:

Cybersecurity – We have vulnerabilities as well as niches of expertise in banking and energy resiliency that we should develop and export.

Surveillance capacity – to demonstrate sovereignty in our maritime space, especially in the High North. We should look at an advanced air-defence capability – like the U.S. AEGIS – that could offer an entry into ballistic-missile defence.

We need to look at the next generation of submarines that would include an under-ice capacity. Why not partner with the Australians, who are commissioning new boats, or use it as incentive in a Canada-Japan FTA or the new CETA?

Emergency preparedness – to give us more resilience at home and abroad. This past week, HMCS Vancouver provided relief assistance after the earthquake in New Zealand. Why not build a hospital ship as a first responder to disasters? Why not increase the reserves? This would deepen relations between our Forces and those they serve.

These investments will create jobs and promote innovation. Production-sharing agreements with the U.S. also means jobs on both sides of the border, something Mr. Trump needs to appreciate.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accurately read the public mood in his embrace of an internationalist role for Canada. We do soft power very well. But as our greatest diplomat Lester Pearson long recognized, our role as bridge and helpful fixer also depends on our hard power.

The comfortable arrangement whereby a benevolent Uncle Sam would cover the tab while the rest of the alliance took a washroom break is over. Insurance premiums for security are coming due. Let’s invest them smartly.

Opinion: Sending Canadian peacekeepers to Mali should be an obvious choice

Related: NATO officials try to reassure Trump administration is committed to alliance

Read more: Russia’s ‘collision course’ with NATO: Your guide to the new Cold War

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Canada, Mexico et Trump

Experts urge Ottawa to strengthen ties with Mexico

Speaking to the Senate foreign-affairs committee Thursday, Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said Canada must make every effort to strengthen its relationship with Mexico as Mr. Trump moves into the White House with his anti-trade policies and plans to build a wall along the Mexican border.

“If the worst happens and the United States does withdraw from NAFTA and does impose the punitive policies that we hear about towards Mexico, it does not benefit Canada at all to pull away from that relationship as well,” Ms. Dawson said.

Campbell Clark: Amid fear over Trump, Mexico could lose Canada as an ally

Read more: What’s at stake for Canada, Mexico and the U.S. in Trump’s new NAFTA

Opinion: What would Canada-U.S. trade relations look like without NAFTA?

Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says that Mr. Trump’s election has been incredibly troublesome to Canada’s relationship with the U.S. and Mexico.

“The election of Donald Trump is proving, at least in the short term, as disruptive to Canada-U.S. relations and Canada-Mexico relations as 9/11,” Mr. Robertson said. “Strengthening the partnership with Mexico makes strategic sense for Canada.”

Mr. Robertson said the Liberal government’s decision to lift a visa requirement on Mexicans wishing to enter the country is a good first step to improving relations with Mexico, but more needs to be done.

He suggested Prime Minister Justin Trudeau make the relationship a priority by putting Mexico on his travel agenda for 2017 and bringing the premiers with him on the trip. He also suggested that Governor-General David Johnston visit Mexico with the presidents of various Canadian universities in an effort to encourage Mexican students to study in Canada.

Mr. Robertson said Canada can also boost trade with Mexico, regardless of whether Mr. Trump follows through with his with his anti-trade agenda. With Mr. Trump promising to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, essentially killing the trade deal without U.S. support, he said Canada and Mexico – both of which are signatories to the TPP – still have a chance to salvage parts of the TPP and the North American free-trade Agreement.

“If the United States were to pull out of NAFTA, NAFTA in fact remains in place between Canada and Mexico and I think that we should be looking at a number of the things we were going to be doing with the United States in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and apply them, which we could do, to an updated Canada-Mexico agreement,” he said.

However, it appears Mr. Trump may be rethinking his campaign promise to pull out of NAFTA. In a 2½-minute video statement Monday where he unveiled his plans for his first 100 days in office, he did not mention NAFTA.

Ms. Dawson said Mr. Trump may change his tune on the trade deal once he hears the American business community’s reaction.

“Business was understandably silent during the U.S. election,” she said. “Now that we have a president-elect, I think business is going to be lined up down Pennsylvania Avenue explaining to the new administration how important trilateral supply chains are.”

In the case that the United States stays in NAFTA, Canada could use the opportunity to renegotiate parts of the massive trade deal to its benefit. Mr. Trudeau has already said Canada is more than happy to talk about trade deals, including NAFTA, if other countries want to reopen them.

Mr. Robertson said Canada would likely negotiate more professions onto the NAFTA mobility list and improved border access for Canadians entering the United States. On the American side, he suspects the United States would push for better protection of intellectual property.

In the meantime, Mr. Robertson said it’s time for the government to start re-educating the Canadian public on the importance of trade to the country.

“We stopped doing that in the mid-nineties and I think that’s a big mistake. I think we have to go back because Canada, of all the countries in the G8, we are really dependent on trade,” Mr. Robertson said.

Also on The Globe and Mail

Is TPP dead after Trump vows to pull out? (Reuters)

Élections de Donald Trump: le Canada ne doit pas abandonner le Mexique

Guillaume St-Pierre | Agence QMI

Donald Trump Holds Meeting At The New York Times


Alors que le président élu américain Donald Trump est prêt à brûler les ponts avec le Mexique, le Canada doit à l’inverse resserrer ses liens avec ce pays.

C’est du moins l’avis de deux experts entendus devant un comité du Sénat, jeudi.

Le chercheur de l’Université de Calgary, Colin Robertson, a dressé un constat sans appel: l’élection de Donald Trump à la Maison-Blanche perturbe avec la même intensité que les attentats du 11 septembre la relation tripartite entre le Canada, le Mexique et les États-Unis.Bien qu’il ait adouci ses positions depuis les élections, Donald Trump a promis de renvoyer des millions de Mexicains «illégaux», de construire un mur à la frontière du Mexique et de déchirer le traité commercial liant les trois pays d’Amérique du Nord.

Dans ce contexte, le gouvernement canadien doit résister à la tentation de tourner le dos à son partenaire mexicain, comme l’ont suggéré certains depuis l’élection de M. Trump.

«Je pense que c’est la mauvaise approche, a affirmé M. Robertson. Nous devons au contraire collaborer avec le Mexique sur les enjeux qui nous concernent.»

Sur l’environnement, par exemple, si les États-Unis décident de se retirer de l’Accord de Paris, «il y a beaucoup de choses que nous pouvons accomplir avec le Mexique», a-t-il expliqué.

Concernant les dossiers touchant à l’énergie, au commerce, ainsi que le sort de l’ALÉNA, Ottawa doit aussi garder ouverts les canaux de communications avec le gouvernement du président mexicain Enrique Peña Nieto, a ajouté l’expert.

La directrice de l’Institut canadien, Laura Dawson, est tout aussi catégorique: «Se désengager du Mexique ne nous permettra pas d’atteindre nos objectifs stratégiques», a-t-elle dit.

«Cela ne va pas améliorer notre relation avec les États-Unis», a-t-elle prévenu. Selon la chercheuse, l’importance des relations canado-mexicaines est souvent sous-estimée en raison de barrières géographiques, culturelles et linguistiques.

Conserver des liens étroits avec le Mexique est aussi une bonne idée du point de vue des affaires, a plaidé Mme Dawson.

«Le Mexique ne vole pas des emplois au Canada. Il en crée, a-t-elle dit. Il offre de la main-d’oeuvre spécialisée et performante.»

Le marché mexicain est aussi une mine d’or pour les entreprises canadiennes, avec ses quelque 40 millions de personnes faisant partie «de la classe moyenne».

«Cette population veut se procurer des biens que le Canada a à vendre», a-t-elle affirmé, citant les «produits de beauté, les aliments de luxe, et les services financiers».

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Halifax International Security Forum

CTV News Channel: The future of diplomacy

Colin Robertson of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute on the highlights of the Halifax International Security Forum.
Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016
Screen Shot 2016-12-04 at 9.50.41 PM

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Relationship with New Secretary of State

Canada will have to fight for attention of new U.S. secretary of state

This week, several potential candidates for the job of top diplomat were discussed as the transition team of president-elect Trump scrambled to build a cabinet that will proceed with foreign-policy initiatives championed during a bruising campaign, some of them highly contentious.

Two front-runners could not be more opposite within the sphere of Mr. Trump – Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor and unsuccessful 2008 presidential candidate, and Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and unsuccessful 2012 candidate

Globe editorial: A frightening triad: Trump, Putin, Assad

Read more: Early signals: The nascent shape of the Donald Trump administration

Mr. Giuliani’s support for Mr. Trump has been ardent, unshakeable, at times bordering on outrageous, while Mr. Romney famously denounced Mr. Trump during the campaign, asserting he was unfit for the presidency. Now, one of them (or even another, such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley) could be selected to carry out the administration’s global diplomatic tasks.

The trick for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, will be winning air time with the new administration after a U.S. election campaign that seldom mentioned Canada. The administrations of Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Obama are closely aligned on such issues as trade and climate, and the new U.S. government appears set to veer off.

“We’re talking about potentially a huge transition from the John Kerry-Hillary Clinton era at the State Department,” said Barry Rabe, senior fellow, governance studies, at Washington-based Brookings Institution. “That said, this is an administration that is going to be looking for friends anywhere in the world that it can find, given the level of alienation.”

Among top campaign issues were restricting immigration, taking a tougher stand in the fight against Islamic State and renegotiating trade deals like the North American free-trade agreement. Although Canada is a signatory to NAFTA, its huge trade relationship with the United States – worth $2.4-billion per day – did not factor in a lot of the talk.

“The Canadian relationship has clearly been overlooked. In North America, the issue right now is Mexico. It’s a hot-button issue and it’s likely to continue,” Mr. Rabe said.

One cross-border exception is the Republicans’ aim to resurrect TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Canadian officials have expressed fear about a new protectionist ethos in the United States. These were stoked by a memo obtained by CNN showing Canada’s softwood-lumber and livestock producers are being targeted by Mr. Trump’s transition team, which aims to extract more favourable terms in a renegotiation of NAFTA.

This is in keeping with the president-elect’s speeches, which hammered away at the theme that the U.S. is shortchanged in trade deals at the cost of jobs and economic growth.

Whether Mr. Giuliani gets the nod as secretary of state, he is expected to have a key role in the administration, given his close relationship with Mr. Trump. Like the president-elect, his roots are outside the Washington Republican establishment, as represented by chief of staff Reince Priebus, who’s been RNC chairman.

The former mayor and one-time U.S. attorney and associate attorney-general is known for an international perspective that is shaped by his experience after the 9/11 attacks, according to a recent New York Times profile. He was praised for his leadership during the crisis, which helped rescue his reputation in the wake of several controversial and unpopular moves during his tenure as mayor.

Since leaving civic office, he has worked the speaking circuit and has been advising foreign governments as well as the private sector on dealing with terrorism and security. His main focus has not been Canada, though he has sharply criticized its health-care system.

“My understanding is that he’s been to Canada, he knows Canada, he has an appreciation and probably positive feelings toward Canada for a couple of reasons. Our response to 9/11, and the trade and the tourism between Canada and New York. So we’re not an unknown factor to Rudy Giuliani,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who had consulate postings in New York and Los Angeles.

Mr. Giuliani’s road to the State Department could be complicated by his business dealings.

His work with governments is receiving the most scrutiny. But Mr. Giuliani’s consulting for TransCanada in 2007 on its plan to store liquefied natural gas on the Long Island Sound is also getting notice. If appointed secretary of state, Mr. Giuliani would have a major say in whether to green light a resubmitted proposal for the controversial Keystone XL project. In Calgary, TransCanada would not comment on Mr. Giuliani’s work for the pipeline company.

Mr. Robertson said the secretary of state will be very much a proxy for the new president, regardless of who the choice is.

“In my experience, the tone comes from the top. Whether it was Hillary Clinton or John Kerry, or Condi Rice or Colin Powell, the personal relationships have all been uniformly good. We make an effort, they make an effort,” he said.

That sentiment is echoed by Gary Doer, who was Canada’s ambassador to the United States from 2009 until last March.

“We’re their biggest customer and a person like Donald Trump is a business person who understands that you take care of your best customers first,” Mr. Doer said.

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Canadian Asks of Trump Administration

Seven foreign policy wishes for the Trump administration  OPEN CANADA

With the election of Donald Trump for U.S. president, we asked Canadian diplomats to name their one hope for his approach to foreign policy.

4. When it comes to ‘irritant’ issues like softwood lumber, recognize the value in North American ministerial meetings

— Colin Robertson, former Consul-General in Los Angeles, Vice-Consul in New York, Consul in Hong Kong, and current vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ask of President-elect Donald Trump should be to preserve the loose institutional arrangements that oversee North American relations, specifically the regular meetings of ministers responsible for foreign affairs, trade, energy and defence. Other ministers — finance, environment, labour, industry — also meet but usually in a bilateral or multilateral setting like the G20. For these meetings to be successful it is vital that the responsible U.S. cabinet officer be present and actively engaged.

Over the years, meetings at the ministerial level have proven very useful as clearing houses for the important but not always strategic issues. These irritants (which would include, for example, bilateral issues like softwood lumber or country-of-origin-labeling) that can’t or won’t get resolved at the level of officials or ambassadors because of their political implications used to get bounced up to the leaders’ meetings. But they cluttered the agenda and diminished the value of these meetings. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used to derisively call them the ‘condominium’ issues.

The energy ministers’ meetings, in particular, have acted as a catalyst for a lot of highly practical initiatives. By obliging officials to report regularly, things get done, especially as we increasingly need to manage North American energy interdependence to our competitive advantage.

North American integration is different than that of the European model, which is heavy on bureaucratic superstructure with its commission, council and parliament. It wouldn’t work for Canada, the U.S. or Mexico, but having regular meetings of key ministers on shared issues of joint concern makes a lot of sense and will both complement and enhance the annual meetings of the Three Amigos.

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Canada US Relations in wake of Trump victory

Americans fleeing Trump presidency could boost Canada’s pot industry, immigration lawyers say

Susana Mas, Postmedia News | November 16, 2016 9:27 AM ET
More from Postmedia News

Lyle Aspinall/ Postmedia NetworkAmericans wishing to flee a Donald Trump presidency could work in Canada’s soon-to-be-legalized pot industry, say two immigration lawyers who dedicated a how-to podcast for our neighbours to the south.

Canada is the first G7 country that has committed to legalizing marijuana, announcing at the United Nations earlier this year that it would introduce new legislation by the spring of 2017, even though doing so would breach three international treaties signed by previous Canadian governments.

A federal task force led by Canada’s former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan is expected to report back by the end of November with recommendations on how to move forward.

Many startup companies will be seeking the expertise required to get their businesses off the ground as Canada inches closer to legalizing marijuana, immigration lawyers Betsy Kane and Mark Holthe said.

According to Kane, who is with the firm Capelle Kane in Ottawa, Canadian companies could easily tap into U.S. talent in a variety of occupations found under NAFTA

Pharmacists, biologists, chemists, biochemists, horticulturalists, plant breeders and even soil scientists will soon find themselves in “huge demand,” Kane said.

“These type of professionals should be seeking out opportunities immediately and in the next year because I think there is a lot of demand and these people will get immediate work permits with a simple offer from many of these startup marijuana companies.”


PostmediaA trimmer working for a cannabis grower from the Kootenay region

However, Holthe, a former immigration officer turned partner at the firm of Holthe Tilleman in Calgary, cautioned that not every pot enthusiast would qualify for a three-year work permit.

“Just because you have a private grow-up in your backyard doesn’t mean you’re going to qualify as a professional under NAFTA,” Holthe said.

Kane, who has some experience bringing in marijuana professionals, said she recently helped a client apply for a work permit under the plant breeder occupation under NAFTA.

“I was feeling a little nervous,” Kane said, but it was a “slam dunk — no different than a professor.”

Ed Kaiser / Postmedia

Ed Kaiser / PostmediaCanadian Cannabis Clinics in Edmonton

In other words, Democrats who want to bide their time in Canada until the next U.S. presidential election in 2020, could find themselves at the forefront of a multibillion-dollar industry.

Canada’s move toward legalizing marijuana was bolstered last week when Americans in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted in favour of legalizing it for recreational use.

Their votes brought to nine the number of states that have given the nod to pot, besides Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington.

With the right credentials, Americans in those states could lend their skills to Canadian companies and move back at the end of their work permit.

Gavin Young / Postmedia

Gavin Young / PostmediaMarijuana plants grow inside one of the ten grow rooms at Aurora Cannabis’ production facility near Cremona, Alberta

“The beauty of NAFTA,” according to Holthe, “is there is no requirement on the Canadian company to show that there is no Canadian available for the job.”

This is unlike Canada’s express entry immigration system where employers need a document known as a labour market impact assessment (LMIA) before they can hire a foreign worker over a Canadian one.

“You find a company that is willing to hire you and bang, you’re in,” Holthe said.

All of this is assuming that Trump doesn’t tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, as he vowed to do during the U.S. presidential campaign. Canada has already signalled that it is prepared to renegotiate NAFTA.

You find a company that is willing to hire you and bang, you’re in

Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the business case speaks for itself.

Canada and the U.S. exchange approximately $1.6 million in goods and services every minute, according to the federal government, with nearly nine million U.S. jobs depending on trade and investment with Canada.

Matthew Staver / Bloomberg

Matthew Staver / BloombergA customer shops for recreational marijuana inside the Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colorado, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014

“For most of the states that voted for Trump, their principle export market is Canada,” Robertson said.

Reopening NAFTA could be an opportunity for Canada to bring the agreement into the 21st century.

“There are lots of good things about NAFTA but I wouldn’t be opposed to modernizing the occupations list,” Kane said.

Some of the occupations under NAFTA are rarely used and don’t really reflect the technology skills of today’s professionals.

“There’s a whole series of professions that we didn’t think of, that didn’t exist in 1994 when NAFTA came into effect,” said Robertson.


Take a look inside Alberta’s only licensed medical… 2:41

As for Canadian employers luring U.S. talent, there’s no doubt Canada could stand to benefit from a Trump exodus, however small.

American celebrities who vowed to move to Canada if Trump won — such as Bryan Cranston who is also in favour of legalizing marijuana — could also find some work in British Columbia where the film and TV industry continues to thrive largely due to generous tax credits.

“Even if one per cent of those who said they were thinking of coming here did, it would not be insignificant,” Robertson said.

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Trump and Energy

Canada and Trump have common ground in energy

While there are obvious areas of disagreement with the Trump administration around climate change, we need to find areas where we can work together, writes Colin Robertson.

An oilsands operation in Alberta. President-elect Donald Trump has proposed energy and infrastructure policies that could benefit Canada’s energy producers. Photograph courtesy of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association

By COLIN ROBERTSON Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016 The HILL TIMES

Energy will be a top issue in Canada-US relations in a Trump administration. We need to reach out now—to the Trump transition team, Congress and state governments—to find common ground, and identify the points of convergence.

On energy, Donald Trump promises in his ‘America First Energy Plan’ to rescind President Obama’s executive orders on climate, including the Climate Action Plan, and to encourage Trans Canada to renew the Keystone XL pipeline permit application.

Mr. Trump also promises to save the coal industry, lift moratoriums on energy development, revoke restrictions on new drilling technology, cancel the Paris Climate Agreement, and ensure any new regulation is “good for the American worker.”

While there are obvious areas of disagreement with the Trump administration around climate change, especially the promise to rescind the Paris Agreement, we need to find areas where we can work together.

Canada is currently the biggest foreign supplier of energy to the U.S. In 2015, we provided 10 per cent of the natural gas consumed in the U.S., 43 per cent of its crude oil imports, 30 per cent of the uranium used in its nuclear-fueled plants, and two per cent of U.S. electricity consumption. Canadian energy is safe, secure and reliable.

Canada’s energy industry is increasingly about innovation and the application of technology. Operational excellence and environmental performance are completely compatible, observed General Electric CEO Elyse Allan last week while accepting the Energy Council of Canada’s ‘Person of the Year’ Award. Allan, like most Canadian energy industry CEOs, believes that Canada can achieve energy superpower status through its leadership on innovation.

‘Clean’ coal may be a dream today, but with investment in research and development, it may become a reality, and we have an incentive to figure it out. Canada’s billions of tonnes of coal reserves represent potentially more energy than all of our oil, natural gas and oil sands resources.

The University of Alberta is home to the Canadian Centre for Clean Coal/Carbon and Mineral Processing Technologies, and collaborative research with a Trump Department of Energy would seem an obvious opportunity.

We should work with like-minded states as well. California is already a partner in a cap-and-trade system with B.C., Quebec, and Ontario, through the Western Climate Initiative.

Mr. Trump has promised, as one of his first legislative actions, a 10-year, trillion-dollar American Energy and Infrastructure Act that will leverage public-private partnerships and private investments. The American Society of Civil Engineers has identified U.S. $3.6 trillion worth of pressing projects in America, all of which promise considerable bang for our bucks in terms of jobs and improved competitiveness. The list of projects includes repairing bridges, airports, dams and levees, seaports and waterways, mass transit, and freight rail, as well as energy pipelines and the electrical grid, most of which we share with the U.S..

There are obvious opportunities in the Trump plan to complement Canadian government infrastructure programs, and so advance North American competitiveness.

Sustaining an integrated North American approach to clean energy, conservation, and climate mitigation will also serve our own economic objectives. Royal Bank of Canada CEO Dave McKay recently observed that Canadians are polarized about resource development, “when we should be focused on how cleanly we can produce it, how safely we can transport it, and how wisely we can consume it.”

Canadian leadership, federal, provincial and municipal, needs to recognize and inform Canadians, that when responsibly harvested, our energy resources, including oil and gas, are our national inheritance. Telling the Canadian story means using the tools of social media with facts and science-based evidence. Elements in the Canadian story-line would include:

· fossil fuels and big hydro projects will be part of our energy mix for decades to come;

· the role that the oil sands, pipelines and big hydro projects play in North American energy independence;

· the innovative work of Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance in reducing the oil industry’s land and carbon footprint and water usage—technology that has application globally;

· responsible energy development accords, developed through compromise and consensus (but consensus is not unanimity), that work for indigenous people and environmentalists, and contribute to jobs and prosperity; and

· Canada’s approach to carbon pricing (tax, levy, or cap-and-trade) and how this fits into our international climate change obligations.

There is a tendency in some quarters to assume the worst about a Trump administration, and weep about what might have been. This is a mistake. There will be differences, and we should be identifying the potential conflicts and figuring out how to manage them.

Where we disagree, we don’t have to be disagreeable. We also need to remember that, Olympic hockey finals aside, on almost every issue with the U.S. we can identify American partners. In advancing Canadian positions, our success rate rises proportionately with the ability to make them congruent with American positions.

Canadian leadership should pro-actively take the initiative with the Trump transition team, and identity the opportunities for cooperation on energy and infrastructure. If we get this right, mutual confidence will make it easier on the trade file. When the new Congress meets on January 3, 2017, and when the Trump administration takes office on January 20, we need to be ready for action.


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