OTTAWA – So much for the bromance – it’s all about America now.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his federal Liberal government must now confront the reality of a Donald Trump presidency as his cabinet members begin gathering today in Calgary for a three-day retreat.
Up to now, Trudeau has had a relatively smooth ride guiding Canada’s relations with the U.S., thanks to being so simpatico with Barack Obama – natural allies on climate change, with a close personal relationship that oozed brotherly affection.
Now the Liberals are girding for a major reset with Washington, which is expected to be the preoccupying pastime for Liberal ministers during their upcoming meetings.
Trump laid bare his governing vision – “America First” – in an inaugural address that savaged the U.S. political establishment and pledged to make creating jobs for Americans his overriding priority. Foreign policy was an afterthought.
So far, the Liberals have taken a wise approach in reaching out to the Trump’s transition team, “in order to begin conveying the importance of our economic partnership and the American interest in maintaining it,” said Roland Paris, Trudeau’s former foreign policy adviser.
But now the real work starts with Trump taking over the White House.
“This is a big shift. It’s not just true for Canada but for every country in the world. We have a U.S. administration which is pursuing an approach which looks like it will be different from any U.S. administration in our lifetime.”
Trudeau has already shuffled his cabinet to adapt to Trump appointing trade specialist Chrystia Freeland to Foreign Affairs, and retired general Andrew Leslie as her parliamentary secretary, thanks to his connection to a number of fellow former military commanders who got top jobs under Trump.
The Liberal government says it is seeking common ground with the Trump administration on promoting middle-class growth.
Prior to her promotion, Freeland was already making the rounds in Washington, talking to members of Congress and Trump’s transition team in her capacity as trade minister.
Freeland met with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, now a Trump adviser, as well as Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the Blackstone Group investment firm, who was appointed in December to lead the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum.
Trump wants the 16 CEOs and business leaders in the group to provide him a private-sector perspective on finding ways to create jobs and drive growth.
Georganne Burke, an American-born Trump supporter who is a vice-president of a Toronto public relations firm, said it would be a good idea for the Liberals to keep talking to Schwarzman and his group.
“Trump wants to bring back jobs and that’s what this group is about,” she said. “There might be some areas where they can complement each other.”