Trade Minister reaffirms Canada’s strong ties with U.S.

WASHINGTON — The Globe and Mail

Dusk sets in over the U.S. Capitol building. (JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

Trade Minister Ed Fast has pushed back against the suggestion that Canada’s relationship with the United States needs some work, saying there’s no country he visits more often than America.

“The United States, we’ve made it very clear, will always be our No. 1 trade partner,” Mr. Fast said Thursday in an interview in Washington. “We have certainly had a focus on the United States ever since our government was elected,” he added later. “In fact, I would suggest the relationship today is much better than it was under the previous Liberal government.”

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A week ago, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told reporters during a trip to Washington that he thought Canada’s commercial relationship with the U.S. would benefit from “a little extra tending.” Mr. Wall cited President Barack Obama’s decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline as evidence that ties between Ottawa and Washington are perhaps less than they could be.

“Like in a long-lasting marriage, it’s important to have a date night,” Mr. Wall said on March 7.

Mr. Fast is the latest in wave of senior Canadian politicians who have made official visits to the U.S. in recent weeks. Besides Mr. Wall, the list includes Alberta Premier Alison Redford, federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. Treasury Board President Tony Clement also is in Washington for meetings Thursday.

The appearances have two things in common: Keystone and Congress. There is no attempt by the Canadians in Washington to pretend they are focused on anything other than winning approval for TransCanada Pipelines Ltd.’s bid to run a pipeline from northern Alberta to the refineries on the cost of the Gulf of Mexico. And they are taking that message to Capitol Hill in an attempt to broaden political support for the pipeline and give Mr. Obama what Mr. Wall called “elbow room” to approve the TransCanada project.

Mr. Fast, who was on his eighth working trip to the United States, was scheduled to meet five lawmakers: Charles Rangel, a Democratic congressman from New York; Sander Levin, a Democratic congressman from Michigan; Devin Nunes, a Republican congressman from California; Maria Cantwell, a Democratic senator from Washington state; and Thad Cochran, a Republican senator from Mississippi.

“I don’t believe we are recalibrating our approach to Washington,” Mr. Fast said when asked if Canada’s full-court press on Washington was a shift in strategy. “We have from the beginning promoted Keystone XL as a project that is critical to North American energy security,” he added.

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