Diplomacy a new game for Ottawa with Trump presidency, Lloyd Axworthy says

Canada's former foreign affairs minister says the federal Liberal government is going to have to rethink old approaches as U.S. President Donald Trump settles into office south of the border.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr confident Ottawa will find sweet spot with new U.S. government

Lloyd Axworthy, formerly Canada’s foreign affairs minister, says Canada may have to look outside Washington to shore up support for trade with the U.S. (Trevor Brine / CBC )

Canada's former foreign affairs minister says the federal Liberal government is going to have to rethink old approaches as U.S. President Donald Trump settles into office south of the border.

Lloyd Axworthy said the new president's stance on a variety of issues including immigration, border security and international trade change the game for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet.

"I don't think the old lessons, the old frameworks that we are used to applying with our relations with the United States, really, are appropriate for the kind of thing that we've heard from Donald Trump. It's not just American first; it's American only," Axworthy said.

"This is going to create, I think, a lot of pressure on Canada, on the government, on Canadians generally to do some re-thinking about how we're going to respond."

Building diplomacy outside Washington

Axworthy said the government will have to broaden its diplomatic efforts in the U.S. beyond Washington in response to Trump's suggestion on the campaign trail that he plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

"As has been pointed out many times on the area of trade and economics, there is real reciprocity. It's not like we're gouging the Americans. We provide a lot of jobs and economic growth in key American states," Axworthy said.

"So that's clearly an area where we're going to have to work very closely with the people of Michigan and Wisconsin and Massachusetts and others to say, 'You are going to be a loser in all of this.'"

Axworthy said the Trudeau government will have to be able to work with businesses, interest groups and state governments throughout the U.S. to apply a "combined set of pressures and proposals, recommendations."

Newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump pumps his fist at the conclusion of his inaugural address in Washington on Friday. Trump has vowed he will renegotiate NAFTA. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

"That's just going to take a presence, a lot more consul generals, a lot more movement to get our universities and our business associations connected with our counterparts in the United States," he said.

"It's going to be very much an on-the-ground, grassroots political effort to try to counter what we see coming out of Washington."

Axworthy said Trudeau may find unexpected allies in Republican members of the U.S. Congress who support trade and are used to working together on international security issues.

Sticking to Canadian values

Axworthy warned Ottawa shouldn't be swayed by the new government's expected tougher stance on immigration, refugees and border controls.

"Again, we don't want to get sucked into their kind of very eccentric and I think damaging set of assumptions, because I go back to my point: Canadians elected a government to be open and reaching out and to understand that we live in a global society and that we're going to have to find ways of governing in it," he said.

"We're now occupying the same piece of a rock as a government that thinks that it is the one and only force in the world."

He added Ottawa may have to find new friends elsewhere to compensate for the changing U.S. role on the international stage, and be prepared to make good on indications that Canada will regain its role as a peacekeeper.

"I think people look to Canada because of our very strong commitment that we're back as a leading force in internationalism. We're going to have to decide: are we prepared to live up to that expectation? Are we going to put resources and allocate them to help compensate for American withdrawal?" he said.

Common ground possible: Carr

Speaking at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr said he's confident the two governments will find places where their interests converge.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says he's confident Canada can find common ground with the U.S. under Donald Trump (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Carr, who is also the Winnipeg South Centre MP, hasn't met with his U.S. counterpart Rick Perry yet, because Perry hasn't been confirmed yet as energy secretary.

But Carr said he was heartened by Perry's testimony at the confirmation hearings, where he talked about human causes of climate change and leading the nation on other sources of energy, particularly wind power.

When it comes to Trump's "America first" rhetoric, Carr said he sees common ground there.

"It means that he cares about jobs, and so do we. And if we care together about jobs in the energy sector, then both countries will benefit. It's a highly integrated energy economy in North America. Jobs in Canada in the energy sector are good for Americans and vice versa," Carr said.

"I would take the positive spin on that and we have already established good relationships and they are developing all the time. We will look at what the American administration does. There is an awful lot that's been said."

Carr said the government has already established diplomatic networks that will help Canada over the next four years.

"We've established what I think is a rational, intelligent network of people in the United States, and not just organizations and not only in the federal government, but in state governments, which, on issues of climate change, are very important," he said.