Canada-U.S. relations will endure, envoy says
Ties between two nations deep enough to withstand outcome of Tuesday’s vote
OTTAWA— As an acrimonious and bitter U.S. election counts down its final hours, American ambassador Bruce Heyman remains optimistic about one fact — the Canada-U.S. relationship will endure, no matter who moves into the White House.
Heyman says that ties between the two nations are broad enough and deep enough to withstand whatever Tuesday’s election may serve up. But he concedes that relationships matter and that it’s tough to predict the precise fallout of a victory by either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. “No matter who occupies the White House, the United States and Canada will remain not only prosperous partners but engaged neighbours, stalwart allies, we’ll be the best of friends,” Heyman told the Star in an interview Monday.
That relationship exists not only along the border but also around the globe, where the two countries are “pursuing very similar outcomes,” he said.
“But look, the tone and style of individual leaders contribute to those outcomes. It’s hard to gauge either of these two candidates at this stage, how that will play out,” Heyman said.
“I’m confident, given the conversations I’ve had with folks in the prime minister’s office and the prime minister, they will engage whoever is president and work very hard to drive outcomes that are good for both of us bilaterally,” he said.
In his year in office, Trudeau has struck up a chummy relationship with Barack Obama that has been marked by a state dinner at the White House in March — the first for a prime minister in decades — and the president’s address to Parliament to June.
Indeed, Heyman claims that Canada-U.S. relations are better now than at any point in history.
But come Wednesday, Trudeau will be seeking to strike a new relationship with the next president, who will take office on Jan. 20.
Trudeau has been careful to avoid direct comment on either candidate running to be president, a point he reinforced when speaking with reporters last week. But he conceded that his government will have to work to get its priorities in front of the new president.
“Whenever the presidency of the United States goes from one individual to another, there are going to be changes and there’s going to be a need for Canada to reaffirm the issues that are important to Canadians . . . and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Trudeau said last week.
“I’m not going to express personal opinions on who may or may not occupy that role in the coming months . . . when I’m going to have to work to defend Canadian interests regardless of who Americans choose next week,” he said.
Still, it’s clear that having Trump in the White House would almost certainly pose a bigger challenge for Trudeau and his government. Trump’s stances on issues such as trade, refugees and immigrants and climate change are at odds with the agenda laid out by the Liberal government.
Trudeau is expected to watch the U.S. election results at home after returning from an event in British Columbia.
The prime minister will probably have his first contact with the president-elect on Wednesday or Thursday, when he makes the traditional congratulatory telephone call.
Academic Fen Hampson said the prime minister would be smart to follow up on that phone call with a quick trip to Washington to meet the winning candidate, before they take office, and ensure that Canada is on their radar screen.
Canada has its own issues it needs Washington’s help on — improved trade, smooth flow for goods and travellers across the border, softwood lumber and globally, collaboration on climate change and the fight against Daesh extremists.
“The message is get in there early and see them often because relations really do matter. It matters on the small stuff and it also matters on the big stuff,” said Hampson, director of the global security and politics pro- gram at Waterloo’s Centre for International Governance Innovation.
“What you really want is a relationship that you can call in your chips on the stuff that really matters to you,” he said. He noted that Obama and Trudeau appear close but suggested that such warm relationships can be overstated, especially if they fail to produce tangible results.
“You want good relations to actually translate into things that advance the Canadian interest. That’s the name of the game,” said Hampson, who is also a professor at Carleton University.
Heyman, an Obama loyalist likely to be replaced with the new administration, said he’ll be spending his final months working to get the U.S. to sign on to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade pact.
“I’d like to see Canada come along. I think we live in a world where we are all going to trade with each other,” he said.
The U.S. ambassador said he’s also keen to see expanded U.S. customs and immigration pre-clearance promised for Canada, including Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport, Quebec City airport and Montreal’s train station, become a reality.
U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman said Canada-U.S. relations are better than they have ever been.