Developing a constructive relationship with the incoming U.S. administration will be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “single greatest challenge” this year, said former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird.
One of the biggest issues to contend with for Canada, which come packaged with the incoming president and his administration, will be the protectionist measures, the former politician said.
“It’s not just Trump and Republicans taking a lot about protectionism,” Baird said, pointing to popular Democratic nominee hopeful Bernie Sanders’ campaign against NAFTA and for a more protectionist regime.
“You’ve seen the U.S. Congress and American public have become a lot more protectionist. This is a huge threat to Canada. We are a free trading nation.”
Earlier this month, Trump was already forcing companies to keep their operations at home – or face tariffs for relocating – all to support the one edict he has insisted will guide his time in office: Buy American and Hire American.
Trudeau last week appointed Chrystia Freeland as foreign affairs minister, which means much of the bridge-building will fall to her.
She is a recognized face in the United States, where she was once based during her career as a journalist and has frequently appeared on television shows including Real Time with Bill Maher and The Colbert Report, and on radio.
But, as Baird noted, she will be dealing with an unprecedented president and administration.
Freeland’s American counterpart will be Rex Tillerson, the former chief executive of oil company Exxon Mobil.
Navigating that relationship may prove difficult when it comes to each respective country’s views on Russia.
During his confirmation hearing last week, Tillerson said he favours, for now, maintaining the sanctions the U.S. currently has on Russia – but Trump has said many times he wants a positive relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin
Freeland and the Canadian government, though looking to reconnect with Russian officials, have been clear, going back to the 2014 Putin-backed annexation of Crimea, there is no room the “aggression and illegal action” of Russians.
Baird acknowledged Freeland may not agree with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on a number of key issues.