Ottawa Citizen

Mod­ern­ized trade deal ben­e­fi­cial

On trade, ‘Look around cor­ner of his­tory’

- JOHN IVISON U.S. News · Canada News · Politics · Elections · Ottawa · Burns · Justin Trudeau · Donald Trump · NAFTA · United States of America · Bill Clinton · Hillary Clinton · Conservative Party of New York · Rona Ambrose · Andrew Scheer · Jared Kushner · Palm Beach · Florida · Washington · White House · John F. Kennedy · Brian Mulroney · Ted Sorensen

Brian Mul­roney was back in his el­e­ment Fri­day — in front of an at­ten­tive au­di­ence, talk­ing about his own achieve­ments.

The for­mer prime min­is­ter was a key­note speaker at the Canada 2020 con­fer­ence in Ot­tawa, wax­ing lyri­cal on the theme of lead­er­ship — specif­i­cally, the dis­tinc­tion by Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist James MacGre­gor Burns be­tween trans­ac­tional and trans­for­ma­tive lead­ers.

It was clear in which cat­e­gory Mul­roney puts him­self, and with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.

But his thoughts on the chal­lenges fac­ing the in­cum­bent of the of­fice Mul­roney used to hold, as he rene­go­ti­ates the deal Mul­roney struck, were in­sight­ful.

Justin Trudeau has pre­sented him­self as an agent of change, and was elected on a vi­sion of a greener, fairer coun­try.

But the ar­rival of Don­ald Trump has ex­ploded all the as­sump­tions on which the Lib­er­als came to power — his elec­tion is a dis­rup­tive force that could erode or em­power Canada’s fu­ture com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage. Change, when it comes, is likely to be of a dif­fer­ent na­ture than any­one en­vis­aged.

“The NAFTA rene­go­ti­a­tion is ab­so­lutely cru­cial. It will be the chal­lenge of this gov­ern­ment, this par­lia­ment and this coun­try. It’s one for the his­tory books,” said Mul­roney.

He said the free trade agree­ment with the U.S., and later NAFTA, were “the jolt out of com­pla­cency that our busi­nesses needed … a ma­tur­ing tonic of sorts for Canada. It cleared the air about our ca­pac­ity to grow and pros­per as a ma­ture, dis­tinc­tive coun­try.”

The same op­por­tu­nity ex­ists to­day but it re­quires lead­er­ship that will, in Bill Clin­ton’s words, “look around the cor­ner of his­tory,” Mul­roney said.

The ex-PM be­lieves Trudeau has put to­gether a ca­pa­ble team that “can do a top flight job for Canada.” He is en­cour­aged that the in­terim leader of the Con­ser­va­tive Party, Rona Am­brose, de-politi­cized the NAFTA rene­go­ti­a­tion and he urged her suc­ces­sor An­drew Scheer to do like­wise.

Mul­roney has been at the heart of Canada’s ef­forts to get to know peo­ple in the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion, us­ing his ex­ten­sive busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal con­tacts. He said Trump’s son-in-law and se­nior ad­viser, Jared Kush­ner, men­tioned how im­pressed he was that the Con­ser­va­tive op­po­si­tion had given the gov­ern­ment its sup­port in the rene­go­ti­a­tion.

He said the strat­egy be­ing adopted by the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment is the right one.

He re­called meet­ing Trump in Palm Beach, Fla., the week af­ter Trudeau vis­ited Wash­ing­ton, and the Pres­i­dent com­mented that the two men had got­ten along and could do “mar­vel­lous things to­gether.”

“As you know, what­ever Don­ald Trump thinks in the White House, so does every­one else,” said Mul­roney.

“We should keep our

WE SHOULD KEEP OUR HEADS DOWN, OUR MOUTHS SHUT ... DON’T TAKE THE BAIT.

heads down, our mouths shut and deal with this at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. Don’t take the bait.

“It’s at the bar­gain­ing ta­ble where we can make our com­ments, caus­tic or other­wise.”

Re­sist­ing the urge to make short-term po­lit­i­cal hay at the ex­pense of longert­erm gains, he ar­gued, does not im­ply sub­servience to the U.S.

“We can say no. We’re not some pushover lit­tle coun­try that some­one is go­ing to am­bush.

“We’re a $2-tril­lion econ­omy. We have the strength to say no.”

But if Trudeau is go­ing to lay the foun­da­tions for a $3-to-4-tril­lion econ­omy, Mul­roney said, he will need to show vi­sion­ary lead­er­ship — the sort that, in the words of JFK’s speech­writer Ted Sorensen, “looks to the next gen­er­a­tion, not the next elec­tion.”

“Po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal is ac­quired in or­der to be spent, not hoarded, in great causes for one’s coun­try,” said Mul­roney. “Lead­ers must gov­ern not for easy head­lines in 10 days but for a bet­ter Canada in 10 years.”

The type of chal­lenges that will face Ot­tawa as it sits down with the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion are be­com­ing ev­i­dent dur­ing the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion phase in the U.S.

Com­ments al­ready logged with the gov­ern­ment there sug­gest busi­ness in­ter­ests will lobby hard in favour of NAFTA, but want a more favourable deal on ac­cess to ev­ery­thing from dig­i­tal me­dia to pota­toes, from e-com­merce to al­monds.

There re­mains the is­sue that Trump needs to raise $1 tril­lion to fund his per­sonal and cor­po­rate tax cut plan, not to men­tion his pledge to vot­ers to rip up what he’s called the “worst trade deal ever.”

All of these forces will put pres­sure on Ot­tawa to make choices that may not be uni­ver­sally pop­u­lar.

No­body knows bet­ter than Mul­roney the chal­lenges of tak­ing the coun­try some­where many of its cit­i­zens do not want to go. He said his ef­forts to ne­go­ti­ate the orig­i­nal free trade agree­ment faced a “toxic cock­tail” of anti-Amer­i­can­ism and nar­row pro­tec­tion­ist sen­ti­ment.

“But trade val­ues tripled un­der NAFTA,” he said. “A mod­ern­ized NAFTA will pro­duce tremen­dous ben­e­fits for Canada.”

 ?? SHAN­NON DONNELLY / PALM BEACH DAILY NEWS / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES ?? For­mer prime min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney talks with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in Palm Beach, Fla., in Fe­bru­ary.
SHAN­NON DONNELLY / PALM BEACH DAILY NEWS / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES For­mer prime min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney talks with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in Palm Beach, Fla., in Fe­bru­ary.
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