Canada’s ambassador to the United States says he is often exasperated by the tweets of U.S. President Donald Trump, but that it’s not a given Canada would be more successful if a Democrat were elected president next year.
In a question-and-answer session at the annual convention of the BC Council of Forest Industries, David MacNaughton said many grievances expressed by Mr. Trump are also shared by some Democrats.
“Therefore, we shouldn’t be thinking about, ‘Oh my gosh. At least if there is a change, everything is going to be OK,' " Mr. MacNaughton said on Thursday.
Mr. MacNaughton said the President’s re-election hinges on whether the U.S. economy remains as strong as it has been despite “some pretty substantial risk,” such as a budget deficit of around US$1-trillion.
He said that he has some ideas about who the Democrats might be wise to nominate as a competitive presidential candidate, but added, without offering names, that there are a number of people running who don’t fit that profile.
The ambassador said that with the status quo in Washington, he doesn’t see any prospect of a deal on softwood lumber.
The current softwood-lumber agreement, negotiated in 2006 under president George W. Bush, expired in October, 2015 when Barack Obama was in office. Canada didn’t manage to secure a deal before the end of Mr. Obama’s term. It’s the fifth battle over softwood tariffs between the two countries since 1982, a dispute that has endured through Republican and Democratic presidencies.
Mr. McNaughton said the U.S. softwood-lumber coalition has refused to buy into the terms of a fair and reasonable agreement, and the U.S. administration has not put any pressure on it.
“It is always easy to get a deal if you’re prepared to do a bad deal, and we have not been prepared to do a bad deal,” said Mr. MacNaughton, who also denounced steel tariffs imposed on Canada by the Trump administration.
Susan Yurkovich, president and chief executive of the Council of Forest Industries, said she saw no sign of impending softwood talks. “We hope for a window at some point to get back to the table, but I don’t see anything on the horizon,” she said in an interview. She added that the situation is made more painful by high duties as a result on everything the Canadian industry ships. “It harms the ability of our industry to compete.”
Mr. McNaughton is a former principal secretary to former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty and was Ontario co-chair for the 2015 federal election that elected the Liberals. He then was named Canada’s ambassador by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Mr. MacNaughton, who jokingly said that any book he would write about his run as ambassador would be entitled “The Tweets I Didn’t Send,” conceded that he has tried to ignore Mr. Trump’s tweets each morning, but generally failed to do so. “I do it every morning.”
He said Canada appears to have been caught, somewhat unintentionally, in the crossfire of the President’s rhetoric about America having been treated badly by such nations as China.
He said that narrative didn’t allow for the nuance of, “We have been ripped off by everybody but Canada," and that Canada has been “lumped in" with other targets of the Mr. Trump’s wrath.
Mr. McNaughton said he has raised the this issue as part of his work as a diplomat, but been told by the administration that it’s too late to reverse.
Canada, he said, has no choice but to work hard all the time. "The Americans are not going to do things for us because we’re nice people. They’re going to do things for us because it’s in their interest,” he said.
“I have constantly said to the Americans that we are nice people, and we are fair people, and we are reasonable people, but we are also hockey players.”
Still, he said, that despite challenging times and harsh words, the Canada-U.S. relationship remains strong and enduring.