Saturday November 04, 2017

A year after Donald Trump's victory: the state of Canada-U.S. relations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. The Trump administration will soon be forced to choose between two contrasting goals it has articulated for upgrading NAFTA, a fast-approaching dilemma over which of those objectives it truly prizes: A vast deal or a fast deal.Detailed statements over the last week have been overshadowed by the intrigue swirling around U.S. President Donald Trump's brief flirtation with the idea of blowing up the continental trade pact by way of executive order.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. The Trump administration will soon be forced to choose between two contrasting goals it has articulated for upgrading NAFTA, a fast-approaching dilemma over which of those objectives it truly prizes: A vast deal or a fast deal.Detailed statements over the last week have been overshadowed by the intrigue swirling around U.S. President Donald Trump's brief flirtation with the idea of blowing up the continental trade pact by way of executive order. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Listen 12:39

As Canada, the U.S. and Mexico prepare to head back to the NAFTA negotiating table, the government's parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs says there was never any expectation that negotiating with President Donald Trump would be easy.

"It's not for the faint of heart," Andrew Leslie told The House. "You do need nerves of steel."

Leslie said Canadian negotiators have no intention of walking away from talks with the country's biggest trading partner, despite Trump's unpredictability and the Americans' insistence that they will not budge on the demands they've laid out.

"Our approach so far has been calm, has been reasoned, has been measured," Leslie said. "We push back hard in private, we don't necessarily do so in public, because that's not what friends do with one another."

Leslie added that Canada has been open about certain U.S. demands they find unacceptable and that leaders and negotiators are waiting to see what the US proposes as next steps.

"But we're not wavering in terms of our approach."

Even with the possibility of NAFTA being on the brink, Leslie said the government's U.S. engagement strategy has been successful so far. It's created tangible positive outcomes for Canadians, such as an increased volume of trade between the two countries, he noted. 

"We've added close to 500,000 jobs in the last two years," he said. "A significant portion of that is based on our exports to trading partners, and our biggest trading partner is the United States."

While Leslie is touting Canada's approach to engagement with the White House, opposition parties on Parliament Hill say the Liberals aren't quite hitting the right note in Canada-U.S. relations.

"I don't think Canada's interests have been advanced very well," Erin O'Toole, the Conservatives' foreign affairs critic, told The House. "I think, you know, NAFTA being on edge, it illustrates that perhaps they're allowing the relationship to be weakened somewhat."

Hélène Laverdière, the NDP's foreign affairs critic, said Canada needs to be tougher on Trump and in NAFTA negotiations.

"Straight from the beginning, we said that the Canadian government had to stand firm. Stand firm in the defence of our interests, stand firm in the defence of our principles, our values," she said.