Time for Canada to hit Trump with the strategic schmooze reserve

Click to play video: 'Trump adviser Stephen Schwarzman says administration holds Canada in ‘high regard’'
Trump adviser Stephen Schwarzman says administration holds Canada in ‘high regard’
WATCH ABOVE: Donald Trump adviser Stephen Schwarzman says administration holds Canada in 'high regard' – Jan 23, 2017

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers and officials gather in Calgary for a cabinet retreat, they’ve been joined by a very special guest: Stephen Schwarzman, an American financial executive and member of Donald Trump’s transition team. Schwarzman is a big deal – close to the president, he’s also an economic expert. He’s the right guy for Canada to be talking with, especially as we deal with what will be the first item on the bilateral agenda: trade.

The meetings apparently went well. After meeting with Trudeau and the cabinet, Schwarzman had only positive things to say.

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“Canada is held in very high regard,” in the United States, he told reporters, including those from Calgary’s News Talk AM 770.

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“One of the important things is the unusually positive view that’s held of Canada,” Schwarzman said. “We have balanced trade between the U.S. and Canada, and that’s not the kind of situation where you should be worrying about the kind of issues that you are.”

This is reassuring – to a point. If his views reflect those of the president — it’s really too soon to say who can be safely viewed as a proxy for Trump, but Schwarzman wouldn’t be a bad guess — it’s a positive sign that the new administration sees the Canada-U.S. relationship correctly.

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Click to play video: 'Keystone approval by Trump ‘very positive’ for Canada'
Keystone approval by Trump ‘very positive’ for Canada

Even calling it a bi-lateral trade relationship doesn’t quite capture the reality of it. The U.S. and Canadian economies are essentially one, and 70 per cent of our exports go to them. Our prosperity depends on this relationship.

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And the U.S. depends on it, too, if not quite so much. All the usual economic stats have been dragged out again in recent days:

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  • 9 million jobs in the U.S. depend on access to Canadian markets and supply chains.
  • Canada is the largest foreign trading partner with 35 states.
  • Canada buys more from the United States than the entire European Union combined.

It’s a gigantic trading relationship, but it’s one that could be threatened, in a weird way, not merely by Trump’s insistence on America First, but by exactly that warm, fuzzy feeling Americans have toward their northern neighbours.

Schwarzman seems to get the upside of this — close, friendly ties.

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“Canada is very well-positioned for any discussions with the United States,” he told reporters in Calgary. “Americans have enormous admiration for Canada, and the amount of commercial linkages, cultural linkages are such that actually some people aren’t aware it’s not part of the United States some days. There’s a sense of enormous connection with Canada.”

OK, sounds good so far. But I think Schwarzman may be more right than he knows when he says some people, including members of the U.S. government, sometimes forget we’re not the same country. Even if the Americans aren’t gunning for us, or even thinking of us, they may break the border while bringing down the hammer on Mexico and China. The fact that it won’t have been intentional won’t matter much to those out of work.

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Click to play video: 'Trump announces he will be meeting with Trudeau soon to discuss NAFTA renegotiation'
Trump announces he will be meeting with Trudeau soon to discuss NAFTA renegotiation

But there is something that Canada can do to reduce this risk, and we’re already doing it, as Schwarzman’s presence in Calgary shows. It’s time to tap Canada’s emergency strategic schmooze reserve and deploy it liberally (no pun intended).

We need to become best friends with every member of Congress, every senator, every trade negotiator and every state and municipal official we can book a meeting with. Buy them all lunch. Send them flowers on their wedding anniversary. Invite them up to the national cottage – whatever it takes.

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Should the White House be considering a move that might hurt our interests, a call from the prime minister may not make a difference, but calls from a few hundred members of Congress and a dozen or so governors, with some big city mayors thrown in, might.

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We’re in a pretty good place to do this. U.S. and Canadian officials at the sub-national level already have a remarkably rich, deep relationship — and that’s no coincidence. We’ve cultivated it deliberately for decades, preparing for exactly this kind of moment. It’s time to cash in some of these chips, because the urgency can’t be overstated.

Canadian prosperity is a product of our economic ties to the U.S. More can and should be done to develop ties with other nations, but there is no — say again, zero — prospect of any of those relationships being worth more than a fraction of what our trade with the U.S. already is.

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Click to play video: 'President Trump withdraws from the TPP, NAFTA seems not far behind'
President Trump withdraws from the TPP, NAFTA seems not far behind

We have a lot going for us, including the facts. Moves that would hurt us would hurt them, too. It truly is, as Schwarzman noted, a generally balanced and open relationship. And, as he says, the warm ties between our people — polling consistently shows that Americans love Canada like no other nation — is a great place to start any persuasion campaign. Plus, as noted recently by John Ivison in the National Post, Canada is also considering military missions it can take on that will please the president – a stark but probably effective way of buying good will in D.C.

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But whatever it takes to make nice-nice with the White House, the time to start that campaign is now. Schwarzman joining the cabinet in Calgary is a terrific first step. But there are thousands more to come.

Matt Gurney is host of The Morning Show on Toronto’s Talk Radio AM640 and a columnist for Global News.

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