Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet colleagues have arrived in Calgary for a three-day retreat to ready themselves for the realities of governing in the Donald Trump era, and to hear from experts who they’ve tapped to help guide them through a potentially tumultuous time with the new president.
“Discussions throughout the retreat will span a range of issues — including strengthening the economy and growing the middle class, security, and the strength of the Canada-U.S. partnership and maintaining a constructive working relationship with the new administration,” Cameron Ahmad, a spokesperson for the prime minister, said of the meetings.
The retreat comes hours after Trump told reporters in Washington that he will soon meet separately with both Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to begin renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and addressing ongoing border issues with the Mexican leader.
Nieto agreed in a phone call with Trudeau on Sunday to join forces to encourage economic integration in North America, according to a statement from Peno Nieto’s office.
David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, who is in Calgary to brief ministers, told reporters Sunday that preliminary discussions with the Trump transition team have been positive, and Canada is not “at all” the target of Trump’s trade rhetoric.
“They’re principally focused on countries that have large trade deficits with them [Mexico and China] … they haven’t said anything specific about real problems they have with us … but, I mean, we are part of NAFTA so there are discussions that need to be had,” he said, adding there is a “worry” that Canada could be “collateral damage” of the administration’s push to rethink the country’s trade deals.
He said it was clear from early meetings with Trump’s team that not all of them appreciated the “depth and breadth” of the economic, security and cultural relationship between the two countries.
“Some of the rhetoric around protectionism is worrisome,” he said, but added Canada has “a lot of leverage” because so many states sell goods and services to Canada.
Ultimately, there is a way to create a “win-win” for both the president and for Canada, the ambassador said. “It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.”
The White House website, updated since Trump’s inauguration Friday, says that if Canada and Mexico refuse to accept a renegotiation of NAFTA that provides a “fair deal” for U.S. workers, then the U.S. will move to withdraw from it entirely.
A spokesperson for the prime minister said a date has not yet been set for a meeting between Trump and Trudeau.
Traditionally, the first foreign trip by a U.S. president is to Canada as it was for former president Barack Obama who visited Ottawa in early February 2009.
Top Trump lieutenant in Calgary
One of the top billings at the cabinet retreat this week will be a meeting with Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the Blackstone Group, a top U.S. hedge fund and investment group, who was appointed in December to head Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum.
The group, a team of economic advisors who will help the president implement his ambitious agenda “to bring jobs back to America,” includes some of the biggest names from Wall Street and Silicon Valley.
Schwarzman will counsel cabinet on Trump’s thinking and how his promised plan to recast trade deals “could play out,” a Trudeau spokesperson said.
The cabinet will reiterate to Schwarzman a message that has become familiar in Ottawa since Trump’s election, namely that the economic relationship between the countries is too important to imperil as 35 U.S. states call Canada their top export destination, the spokesperson said.
Cabinet meets with intelligence community
First on the agenda Sunday evening is a previously unannounced meeting between cabinet and members of the defence and intelligence communities.
Jonathan Vance, Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, Michel Coulombe, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and Greta Bossenmaier, the country’s top digital spy at the Communications Security Establishment, flew in to Calgary Sunday afternoon to provide briefings on “a range of issues that relate to their files,” a spokesperson said.
The meeting, billed as a sort of “fireside chat,” comes at at time when relations between Trump and those in the U.S. intelligence community are strained. Trump has criticized leaks about an unconfirmed Russian report, while comparing the actions of some agents to “Nazi Germany.”
The newly-minted president also earned a strong rebuke this weekend from John Brennan, Obama’s outgoing CIA director, who said the billionaire businessman “should be ashamed of himself” for standing in front of a memorial for fallen agents while scolding the media for reports about the size of his inaugural crowds.
Before his arrival in Calgary, Trudeau took to Twitter to send a message of support to the tens of thousands of protesters who turned out in cities across the country Saturday to assert women’s rights in an era of uncertainty with the election of a right-leaning and populist president who is seen by some as a threat to the advances women have made in recent years.
Congratulations to the women and men across Canada who came out yesterday to support women’s rights. You keep your government inspired.
The marches were billed by organizers as a progressive response to Trump’s inauguration — a chance to show the president that, despite his victory, there is a formidable alternative.
It is not clear what impact, if any, Trudeau’s tweet will have on his relationship with Trump. The 45th president and his team are known to actively monitor the social media site.
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