Trudeau’s greatest challenge in 2017? Engaging with US while protecting Canada, Baird says

Click to play video: 'Biggest challenge for Prime Minister in 2017 is our southern neighbour: Baird' Biggest challenge for Prime Minister in 2017 is our southern neighbour: Baird
WATCH: Former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird tells Vassy Kapelos there is a different mood in the American congress and among the American public which is going to be very difficult for our government and that will be very tough for Canadian jobs – Jan 15, 2017

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.

[President-elect Donald] Trump obviously doesn’t have experience working in government, so he will be very unpredictable. He will take a different style, and that will be a real challenge to try to relate to,” Baird said in an interview on The West Block.

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.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Liberals ‘not worried’ about trade with U.S. in spite of Trump’s protectionist tendencies

Whether it’s “Buy American” or his anti-NAFTA stance, Trump’s protectionist views have been a source of apprehension for Canada.

“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.”

READ MORE: Donald Trump tweet threatens ‘big border tax’ on General Motors, stocks fall almost immediately

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.

“We need open borders that good and services can make their way back across, and there’s always the struggle to push up against the thickening of the border,” Baird said. “Going into 2017, I think this will be [Trudeau’s] single greatest challenge, to engage with the new administration, but to realize he’s dealing with a very different Congress and a very different mood among the public that’s going to be tough for Canadian jobs.”
Story continues below advertisement

Trudeau last week appointed Chrystia Freeland as foreign affairs minister, which means much of the bridge-building will fall to her.

READ MORE: Canada’s choice of Russia critic as top diplomat seen as a bold move

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.

“I think it will be really tremendously important for Minister Freeland to reach out and establish a really productive working relationship,” Baird said. “That’ll be the most important relationship that she’ll have to develop because [Tillerson is] really the key interlocutor for the foreign minister.”

Navigating that relationship may prove difficult when it comes to each respective country’s views on Russia.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Why is Canada’s top diplomat, Chrystia Freeland, banned from 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.

“But he’s smart and experienced and would be a good interlocutor,” he said. “[Freeland] took a very hard line with respect to the invasion of Crimea and Russian military interference … There’s obviously significant challenges they’re having bilaterally and globally with the Russian federation. At the same time, it will be important to engage.”

Sponsored content