Canada USA Relations

‘It’s a very dangerous political place to be for the Conservative Party,’ Ambrose warns Tories not to attack Liberals on NAFTA

NAFTA advisory council member Rona Ambrose and other panelists also paint a gloomy picture of future Canada-U.S. trade relations and of U.S. President Donald Trump’s impact on the free trade consensus.
Moderator Colin Robertson, former Quebec premier Jean Charest, former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, and former Chrétien-era communications director Peter Donolo, pictured May 8 on a panel at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute conference at the Rideau Club. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

OTTAWA—Former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose is warning the federal Tories to watch their attacks on the Liberals over the crucial NAFTA renegotiations because it could make them look “anti-Canada” which is not a big “vote-getter.”

“It’s a very dangerous political place to be for the Conservative Party of Canada to attack the Liberal government, which is working hard to come to a deal that’s in the best interest of Canada,” she told a packed room Monday at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute conference at the Rideau Club. “That would mean almost like you’re having to look like you’re taking the other side, which is Donald Trump’s side. That is not a politically smart place to be.”

Ms. Ambrose, who is now a Liberal-government-tapped member of the NAFTA Advisory Council and is based in Washington, D.C., with the Wilson Centre, said the NAFTA issue doesn’t garner a lot of votes and it isn’t a No. 1 issue for constituents or even the No. 10 issue. Ms. Ambrose was speaking at a panel discussion called ‘Positioning Canada in the Shifting International Oder.’ The panel focused on managing Mr. Trump’s ‘America First’ approach to foreign affairs and international trade, moderated by former diplomat Colin Robertson.

Ms. Ambrose was responding to Peter Donolo, former longtime communications director to former prime minister Jean Chrétien, who told the same audience that he believed the political consensus on NAFTA will eventually disappear and that Canada-U.S. relations will become a “live issue” again.

He said U.S. President Donald Trump’s approach to politics, often based on demonstrating “his opponent’s face has been grounded into the dirt” and humiliated, will not go over well with Canadian politicians.

“The term win-win is not in Mr. Trump’s lexicon,” said Mr. Donolo, now vice-chairman of Hill and Knowlton in Toronto. “I don’t think Mr. Scheer or Mr. Singh, who have been part of this elite consensus on NAFTA negotiations, are then going to congratulate Prime Minister Trudeau and his government for a great deal on the NAFTA renegotiation when that’s not the way politics works.”

Mr. Donolo predicted the political atmosphere is going to look like how it was when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, when political parties were split on whether to participate in the conflict.

He pointed to how Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and actions have swayed Mexican politics, where leftist leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador is now leading in polls and is running on challenging Mr. Trump.

“There will be firm sides drawn and there won’t be a national consensus issue; where it will end, I don’t know. It’s not a healthy development.”

Ms. Ambrose, Mr. Donolo, and Jean Charest, former Quebec premier and Progressive Conservative leader, all spoke in Ottawa while Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) and trade officials are in Washington for another critical round of talks, the last such discussions before renegotiations are halted to accommodate for presidential elections in Mexico in July and the midterm congressional race in the U.S. in November.

The negotiations fall under a global political backdrop of right-wing, populist, and trade-skeptic movements rising in many western democracies, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

But in Canada, conservative politicians haven’t swung to the hard right and remain enthusiastically supportive of free trade, despite the belief, including from Ms. Ambrose, that movements in other countries have influenced some Canadians.

While Ms. Ambrose said she remains optimistic that a trade deal can be reached, she also painted a gloomy picture of Canada-U.S. relations, even if Mr. Trump doesn’t receive a second term in 2020.

“This romantic notion that the Americans are our best friends and biggest allies; that’s not the reality anymore,” she said.

“That’s not how they’re treating us in the trade arena. It’s how they’re treating us in other arenas. And it speaks to the fact we have to recognize their agenda, when it comes to ‘America First,’ is Canada is not just second, Canada’s maybe third, fourth, or maybe fifth down the line.”

Ms. Ambrose also said she doesn’t believe that Mr. Trump’s politics will be confined to one-term or that he’s a one-off politician the country won’t ever see again.

“I think the people who support him are alive and well and in fact growing, the type of politician that he is. We see some of these elements right in our own country. We see it in a number of western democratic countries,” she said.

But she also noted that a recent deal between the U.S. and South Korea was celebrated as a victory by both governments, possibly signalling that the Trump administration won’t take as hardline of an approach to trade deals in the future.

Ms. Ambrose said striking a deal on auto parts in the ongoing round of negotiations would mark a major breakthrough because it would give Mr. Trump a major political victory and a win for his political base, located in the country’s industrial heartland.

“If we can get something around autos, which is the absolutely sweet spot for Donald Trump…I think that is a win-win for Canada and the U.S.,” Ms. Ambrose said. “And I don’t think we’ll see him rub our faces in the dirt over that.”

Ms. Ambrose said Trump voters don’t care about wonkier issues such as the Chapter 19 dispute resolution mechanism, but striking a deal on auto parts will leave negotiations in better shape heading into election season.

“I’m a little more optimistic if those are the last things on the table,” she said. “As a politician, you’re looking at these things and going ‘Okay, we really want to get rid of Chapter 19, but what is that going to gain me in the states where I need votes.’ Not much because they don’t even understand it.”

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Managing Trump: Canadian Response after 100 Days

Managing Trump: The Canadian Response


Image: New York Magazine

by Colin Robertson
Vice-President and Fellow
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
April, 2017


Table of Contents

Managing Trump: The Canadian Response

Every prime minister has three files resting permanently on their desk, requiring their personal attention: national security, national unity and the Canada-U.S. relationship. For Justin Trudeau, the election of Donald Trump has meant putting the Canada-U.S. file on the top of the pile.

Trump campaigned in punchlines, with a signature blend of bombast, bravado and bullying. His platform was nativist, protectionist and populist. His campaign, featuring big rallies and a minimal ground game, defied the new-age electoral conventions based on data-driven micro-targeting. In its successful capture of the Republican nomination and then the presidency, he defied the pundits, the GOP establishment (including its national security establishment that publicly deemed he would put the nation’s security “at risk”) and its conservative wing.1

As president, Donald Trump continues to be a ‘renegade in power’. His tweets have redefined the power of the ‘bully pulpit’ and his administration’s alternative facts and his own truthiness (according the Washington Post during his first 91 days in office Mr. Trump has made 417 false or misleading claims).2

In as much as President Trump has governing principles, they are about the bottom line and what good they will do for the USA. Whereas previous presidents avoided linkage between economics and security, for Trump they are a natural match. It is all part of the ‘art of the deal’.

As he approached his hundred days in office. President Trump took jabs at Canadian dairy, lumber, energy, and threatened withdrawal from the North American free-trade agreement declaring from the White House that “people don’t realize Canada has been very rough on the United States.3 Everyone thinks of Canada as being wonderful, and so do I. I love Canada. But they’ve outsmarted our politicians for many years, and you people understand that.” It was a reminder to Canadians that we do not enjoy any special exemption from the “Full Trump.”

While much of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric is merely noise, what is dangerous about the noise is the effect it is having on business confidence, both domestic and foreign, and about investment in Canada. If investors think Canada is going to lose its ease of access to the United States, Mr. Trudeau’s commitment to create middle-class jobs will not happen.

The Trudeau government’s response has been one of careful, calibrated, fact-based engagement. The opposition and provincial governments, especially premiers, are part of the outreach effort, making it a “Team Canada” initiative. Buttressed with local content, the initiative builds on three core messages: Canada is a fair-trade partner and a market that creates jobs for Americans; Canada is a reliable ally; Canadian resources fuel American growth and jobs.

The relationship and managing Mr. Trump is one that Prime Minister Trudeau must manage personally and get right. Canadian prosperity, and his own re-election, depend on it.

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Clinton or Trump: Canada’s Energy Objectives with the USA

04 November 2016 – Ottawa, ON – The Canadian Global Affairs Institute today released,”Clinton or Trump: Canada’s Energy Relations with the US” by Colin Robertson, CGAI Vice-President and Fellow.

Energy, the environment, and climate change will figure prominently in Canada-US relations after January 20, 2017. The environmental movement will continue to press for ‘environmental justice’ –which means different things to different groups – in alignment with allies, especially indigenous peoples. Regardless of whether it is a Clinton or Trump presidency, Canadian leadership – provincial, federal, and private sector – must pro-actively advance our interests with Congress, the Administration and its agencies, and with state governments.

The complete report, “Canada –US Climate, Energy, and Environment Relations after the Election” is available at:

Download the PDF


Trump’s victory sends Trudeau’s energy, climate strategy into disarray

Canada’s energy future remains deeply entwined with that of the United States, which is now virtually our only customer for exports of crude oil, natural gas and electricity, and which has under President Barack Obama played a leadership role on international climate change action.

As a result of Mr. Trump’s upset, the prospect for a continental energy policy will look very different from this past year, since the Liberals came to power. The Republican standard-bearer has dismissed concerns about climate change, pledged to slash regulations that impede the production and use of fossil fuels, and is unlikely to stand in the way of new pipelines that would bring oil-sands crude from Canada to the refinery hub in the U.S. Gulf Coast.Mr. Trump favoured the Keystone XL pipeline that Mr. Obama turned down, and has said he will invite Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. to refile its application. However, the real estate developer said he would want a better deal for the U.S. including wanting “a piece” of the pipeline project for the U.S., though he has never suggested how that stake would be achieved.

If, as he has promised, Mr. Trump rolls back his predecessor’s climate commitments, Canada will face tough competitiveness questions as Ottawa and the provinces pursue plans to increase carbon prices in the coming years.

“With Trump, [energy policy] is a black box because he has not offered detailed plans,” said Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Ottawa-based Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

For subscribers: Trump’s victory is a worst-case scenario for Canada’s economy

Campbell Clark: Trump win throws a monkey wrench into Canada-U.S. relations

Read more: How Trudeau will try to bend Trump’s ear in the coming weeks

Renewable energy advocates insist that, regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, the U.S. will continue to see a surge in clean-energy investment as U.S. states pursue their own standards and policies that drive adoption of increasingly competitive wind and solar power.

But Mr. Trump would likely hurt the renewable energy sector because he would kill off Mr. Obama’s clean-power plan, which would encourage states to adopt clean power over coal-fired electricity. He will likely end a key renewable-energy tax credit when it comes up for extension in 2019, noted Divya Reddy, an analyst with Washington-based political risk firm Eurasia Group.

While the businessman diverged from Republican orthodoxy in areas such as trade and foreign affairs, he has echoed the party’s long-standing support for unfettered oil and gas development.

His chief energy adviser is Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota congressman and climate-change skeptic whom Ms. Reddy describes as “perhaps the most outspoken advocate for the U.S. oil and gas industry in Congress.”

Mr. Trump has committed to roll back regulations that hamper the industry. While he has not been specific, that may well include Obama administration plans to cut methane emissions from oil and gas sector by up 45 per cent – a joint Canada-U.S. commitment was made when Mr. Trudeau visited Washington in March.

Climate negotiators are gathering this week in Morocco for the annual United Nations summit and will have to assess how Mr. Trump’s victory will affect the Paris agreement reached a year ago.

He has threatened to walk away from the deal, which Mr. Obama ratified last month by executive order.

There are several ways in which Mr. Trump could undermine the Paris accord, which aims to limit the rise in average global temperatures to less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. He can simply ignore U.S. commitments to reduce emissions, and to provide billions of dollars in aid to developing countries.

The surprise victory by Mr. Trump could force the federal and provincial governments in Canada to reconsider climate policies that will disadvantage energy producers here and drive up costs for manufacturers, said Laura Dawson, director of Canada Institute at Washington’s Wilson Center a non-partisan think tank.

“It may force Canada to backtrack on some of its initiatives that would put Canada too far out ahead as an outlier,” she said. “The Trudeau government was trying to go where the puck was going under an Obama White House but that puck might stop altogether under Trump, or it might turn into a basketball.”

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Clinton or Trump: Canada’s Energy Relations with USA

New Policy Update: “Clinton or Trump: Canada’s Energy Relations with the US” by Colin Robertson

For Immediate Release

04 November 2016 – Ottawa, ON – The Canadian Global Affairs Institute today released,”Clinton or Trump: Canada’s Energy Relations with the US” by Colin Robertson, CGAI Vice-President and Fellow.

Energy, the environment, and climate change will figure prominently in Canada-US relations after January 20, 2017. The environmental movement will continue to press for ‘environmental justice’ –which means different things to different groups – in alignment with allies, especially indigenous peoples. Regardless of whether it is a Clinton or Trump presidency, Canadian leadership – provincial, federal, and private sector – must pro-actively advance our interests with Congress, the Administration and its agencies, and with state governments.

The complete report, “Canada –US Climate, Energy, and Environment Relations after the Election” is available at:

Download the PDF

The Canadian Global Affairs Institute is always looking for submissions from scholars and practitioners.
Submit your work here.

For More Information Contact:
Meaghan Hobman

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Three Amigos Summit

Three Amigos, three tests for Trudeau

The Globe and Mail Jun. 26, 2016

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces three tests during this week’s North American Leaders’ Summit. The first is to reset the relationship with Mexico. The second is to sustain with U.S. President Barack Obama the positive momentum of the recent Washington summit. The third, a challenge for all three leaders, is to demonstrate anew, post-Brexit vote, their collective commitment to continental economic integration.

Resetting the Mexican relationship is overdue. It will start when – as repeatedly promised during last year’s federal election campaign, in the mandate letters to cabinet ministers and in his initial meeting at the G20 with President Enrique Pena Nieto – Mr. Trudeau lifts visa restrictions for Mexicans visiting Canada.

Official relations have been in the doldrums since the Harper government imposed a visa in July, 2009. Mexicans had become our top refugee claimants. The visa stopped the claimants, although much of the problem was our own laxness, since remedied in subsequent legislation.

Canadian trade and investment in Mexico is under-appreciated. Mexico is our third-largest market with real potential for further growth. It’s our most popular tourist destination after the United States. But imposing the visa made the flow a one-way street, significantly curbing Mexican investment, tourism and study in Canada.

Once the visa is lifted, the Mexicans are keen to expand the relationship – including climate and energy, trade and investment, and people-to-people connections.

On the cultural front, Mr. Pena Nieto’s visit coincides, by intent, with an exhibition of the celebrated Mexican modernist painter Rufino Tamayo at the National Gallery of Canada.

We should reciprocate with a similar exhibition and link it to another in the successful series of innovation missions led by Governor-General David Johnston. We should also use such visits to increase by tenfold the number of exchange students studying in our two countries.

We worked closely and successfully with Mexico in persuading the U.S. to lift its iniquitous country-of-origin-labelling requirements on our beef and cattle trade. By standing together, we have a much better chance of rebuffing the protectionist headwinds generated in the current U.S. election campaign.

As a first step, our ambassadors and consuls in the U.S. should meet regularly to share their playbooks and to co-ordinate messaging about the value of North American economic integration. Few Americans appreciate that 25 per cent of what they buy from Canada and 40 per cent of what they purchase from Mexico was made in the United States.

Mr. Trudeau’s second test is to further consolidate with Mr. Obama measures to advance regulatory co-operation and to ease border congestion for people and goods. Much of this can have trilateral application. We both need to deliver on our respective legislation enabling pre-clearance for those travelling from Billy Bishop and Jean Lesage airports and by rail from Montreal and Vancouver, and to share no-fly lists.

Mr. Obama needs to give a final nudge – an executive order would be nice – to departments and agencies to fully implement the spirit of “cleared once, accepted twice” on goods entering our shared perimeter.

Significant differences” continue to divide Canadian and American negotiators on softwood lumber. A recent update by International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman effectively punts the Freddy Krueger of trade irritants down the road. The Trudeau government must avoid letting softwood lumber become the drag and focus of the relationship that the Keystone XL pipeline permit became for the Harper government.

Leaving the file with the USTR, probably the most Canada-unfriendly of U.S. agencies, is a recipe for litigation and confiscatory levies. Here again, Mr. Obama could give a helping push from the White House (as did George W. Bush in reaching the 2006 accord).

The third test for leaders Obama, Pena Nieto and Trudeau is to renew their nations’ commitment to closer economic and environmental integration.

The trilateral work of our Foreign, Energy and Trade ministers will be reinforced and advanced by the leaders. We can and should be beacons against the increasingly dark forces of xenophobia and protectionism of which Brexit is the most conspicuous manifestation. Ottawa promises to be a “green” summit – building, in continental fashion, on the achievements of the Paris climate accord.

We make things together, increasingly, in a sustainable fashion. This is the North American competitive advantage: energy independence and abundant resources; a lead in research and development; and, if we would only lift the mobility constraints, a talented labour pool.

North American integration demonstrates a different model from that of Europe. It is less centralized and less bureaucratic. It works for each of us, reinforcing rather than undermining our respective sovereignties. It’s a message that our leaders need to communicate at home and abroad, loudly and clearly, again and again.

A Primer to the North American Leaders’ Summit (NALS)



by Colin Robertson
CGAI Vice-President and Fellow

June, 2016


Table of Contents

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