Trudeau Brings In Former Conservative PM To Help Save NAFTA

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling for assistance from the man who was his father’s chief political rival: former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Mulroney, who initiated the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and forged a close relationship with then-President Ronald Reagan, is also a friend of President Donald Trump and owns a home in Palm Beach that is literally across the street from Trump’s Florida vacation spot.

Mulroney is the guest of honor at a special cabinet committee meeting on Thursday in Ottawa. He will share his unique perspective on trade negotiations between Canada and the U.S. as well as his observations about Trump, according to Canadian Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

Despite Trudeau’s constant assurances that he doesn’t believe a renegotiated NAFTA will severely impact Canada, sources say the prime minister is worried and the meeting with Mulroney is only the latest in a series of confidential sessions with Trump administration officials.

“We all know that he’s close to President Trump,” Champagne said. “So obviously, you know, any insight that we can get is welcome. You know, this is a whole-of-Canada effort.”

Champagne said that the Canadian delegation to renegotiate NAFTA would be headed by Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, but that consulting with Mulroney was simply   “the smart thing to do” given his vast experience in international trade negotiations and his personal relationship with Trump. In February, Mulroney made headlines by attending a cancer fundraiser at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” a song he had famously sung with Ronald Reagan during a presidential visit to Canada when Mulroney was prime minister.

Trudeau’s office has confirmed that their boss relies on Mulroney for advice on dealing with America — something of an irony considering that Mulroney was opposition leader to Pierre Trudeau during the late prime minister’s last term of office. The two were never close and often exchanged angry barbs in the House of Commons.

But according to Mulroney, “That was then, now is now. My wife and I have been friendly with the present prime minister — as has my family — for many years. He has always treated us with great courtesy and respect. He’s the one I deal with. He sets the tone.”

Trudeau admits he has no one in his inner circle who understands American motivations or Donald Trump. “We are drawing upon advice from different Canadians who have offered their assistance, and we are pleased the former Prime Minister has been able to serve as a helpful bridge to Republicans, including the President, underscoring the unique relationship between our two countries,” Trudeau press secretary Cameron Ahmad said in an email.

Sources close to Mulroney say the architect of continental free trade is concerned that his legacy might be lost if Trudeau is not guided in the renegotiation process. Mulroney campaigned on free trade in the 1988 Canadian federal election that divided the country over the issue.

Mulroney is not accepting any remuneration for his work on the NAFTA file but sees it as his public duty and an obligation to history, according to one source close to the former prime minster who wishes to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.


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