Feds to launch Canada-U.S. engagement strategy as presidential election looms

Feds to launch Canada-U.S. engagement strategy as presidential election looms
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media during their federal cabinet retreat in Montreal, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government will launch a renewed effort to promote Canada’s interests in the United States as the spectre of another Trump presidency looms.

He announced the “Team Canada engagement strategy” at the final day of a cabinet retreat in Montreal on Tuesday.

Cabinet is meeting to prepare for the return of Parliament next week, and ministers have been discussing the upcoming presidential election and the very real prospect that Donald Trump will return to the White House.

“We made it through the challenges represented by the Trump administration seven years ago, for four years, where we put forward the fact that Canada and the U.S. do best when we do it together,” Trudeau said.

“Obviously, Mr. Trump represents a certain amount of unpredictability.”

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne and International Trade Minister Mary Ng will be tasked with bringing together provincial and territorial leaders and experts in labour, business and academia. The ministers will co-lead the strategy with Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Kirsten Hillman.

Foreign Affairs Minister MĂ©lanie Joly said Canada is preparing for any potential outcome in the 2024 race for the White House, be it the re-election of President Joe Biden or a second chance for Trump.

Champagne said the Canadian and American economies are more integrated than ever, which should act as a buffer against the threat of U.S. protectionism.

“One thing that I think former president Trump understands is jobs. And now jobs, millions of jobs, depend on what we have achieved over the last decade,” Champagne told reporters in Montreal on Monday.

“So that economic integration, I think, is going to be a key for the future.”

That includes semiconductors, biotechnology and the auto sector, he said. In 2022, Canada lobbied hard for an exemption to a provision in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act to ensure electric vehicles made with Canadian batteries or components would still qualify for major U.S. tax credits.

At first, the credits had been much stricter about America-only content, but that carve-out helped Canada secure several major battery plants last year.

Champagne told The Canadian Press in a December interview that battery plants like the one Volkswagen is building in Ontario would not have happened without the Inflation Reduction Act.

“It would have been far more difficult,” he said. “I think the IRA was the catalyst for reindustrialization in North America.

“If you look at the battery ecosystem, we have strength. My mission is always to strategically position Canada in key supply chains and now we have inserted Canada in the key strategic supply chain, for example of electric vehicles in North America.”

Laura Dawson, an expert on Canada-U. S. relations and the current executive director of the Future Borders Coalition, says Canada needs to be prepared no matter who wins because both Biden and Trump have protectionist tendencies.

“It’s an important time for really taking stock of that relationship, reinvesting in that relationship, because for both Canada and the United States, it is of existential importance for both economics and security,” she said in an interview.

Dawson and Hillman are both among a panel of experts who will make presentations to the cabinet Tuesday on the U.S.-Canada relationship.

They will be joined by Flavio Volpe, president of the Auto Parts Manufacturers Association, and Marc-André Blanchard, the executive vice-president of CDPQ Global investment group.

Dawson said there is work to be done on more effective and integrated supply chains for both economic and national security purposes.

The prospect of a Trump presidency, said Dawson, requires “much more direct action from Canada right now.”

“We know what Trump 1.0 was like for Canada and that was a challenge,” she said.

“But I don’t feel like that experience makes Canada really well-prepared for Trump 2.0. Because even though we understand what that individual is like, he is much more prepared to launch a very aggressive America-first campaign … right out of the gates that’s going to, I think, significantly impact Canada in a negative way.”

Dawson said Canada needs to start a national charm offensive now, sending ministers, consuls general, premiers and industry leaders to meet with U.S. lawmakers, particularly Republicans, to put Canada’s message on the radar.

By Mia Rabson in Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2024.

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