As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares for his first encounter with Donald Trump at the White House, a new poll conducted for The Globe and Mail shows Canadians expect him to stand up to the President's aggressive America-first strategy even if it leads to a trade war with Canada's biggest trading partner.
Presidential Counsellor Kellyanne Conway told CNN Tuesday that Mr. Trudeau would be travelling to Washington next week to hold wide-ranging talks with Mr. Trump.
Trade talks were the focus of a meeting Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had Tuesday in Washington with House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and other members of Congress. The discussions included dairy-market access, suggesting that Canada's protectionist "supply management" system could be on the table in the North American free-trade agreement renegotiations. Ms. Freeland meets with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday.
Mr. Trump's pledge to renegotiate NAFTA is not sitting well with most Canadians. A Nanos poll, conducted between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1, found that 58 per cent of Canadians surveyed would support a trade war with the U.S. if the Trump administration slapped new tariffs on Canadian exports.
"It's kind of a recognition that there is going to be unavoidable conflict with the Trump administration on trade," Nik Nanos said in an interview. "When Canadians see the type of leadership style from Donald Trump, they realize that the only way to respond to him is assertively and confidently, even if it means a trade war. Even though we are a small trading partner, many Canadians believe the [trade] war is coming."
Mr. Nanos poll also found that 57 per cent of Canadians are confident the Trudeau government can protect Canada's economic interests in the upcoming NAFTA negotiations. More than half of Canadians (53 per cent) are also opposed to Ottawa cutting corporate taxes to mirror the expected lower corporate taxes promised by Mr. Trump.
Neither the White House nor the Prime Minister's Office would give a date for the meeting but, if it happens, it would need to take early place next week because Mr. Trudeau will be in Germany from Feb 15-18 on government business.
The election of Mr. Trump has forced the Prime Minister to reshape his cabinet and to launch a concerted outreach to U.S. powerbrokers to prevent Canada's economy from being sideswiped by the President's America-first approach to trade and global security issues.
In addition to Ms. Freeland, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Finance Minister Bill Morneau are making pilgrimages to Washington to meet their U.S. counterparts and congressional leaders. They are pressing the case that Canada is a valued trading partner and staunch U.S. ally and shouldn't be punished with tariffs or other trade restrictions.
While Canada has largely escaped Mr. Trump's attention on the trade front – he has mostly targeted Mexico – the dairy-market reference suggests that protectionism related to that industry could be a sticking point in any NAFTA renegotiation.
Ms. Freeland's congressional meetings could be crucial to NAFTA talks as Congress will likely have to pass legislation on tariffs or other matters for any renegotiated trade deal to take effect. Previous trade deals have had to be amended in order to secure congressional support. In her own reading of the meeting, Ms. Freeland played up how important Canada was to Mr. Ryan's state of Wisconsin.
"They discussed the $1-billion in exports to Canada from the Speaker's district, as well as the fact that 35 states count Canada as their No. 1 customer," her office said.
Mr. Trump has signalled he wants to "speed up" renegotiation of NAFTA, but has not offered an exact timeline for when he would start negotiations or when he aims to finish them. The President must give Congress 90 days' notice before talks begin, which he has not yet done.
Ms. Freeland also met with Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to discuss the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other global issues. Mr. Trump has said he wants NATO countries to boost defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP, roughly double what Canada spends now.