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Douglas George, Canada’s consul general to Detroit, speaks at a conference in Toronto on Nov. 16, 2016. (Colin Perkel/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Douglas George, Canada’s consul general to Detroit, speaks at a conference in Toronto on Nov. 16, 2016. (Colin Perkel/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadian businesses must lobby U.S. to fight protectionism, diplomat says Add to ...

Companies that do business across the Canadian-U.S. border must fight back against American protectionism by lobbying president-elect Donald Trump’s White House, one of Canada’s top diplomats says.

Douglas George, consul-general in Detroit, told the Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships conference in Toronto on Tuesday that the federal government will work with business to keep the lines of trade open.

“Protectionism and anti-trade sentiment have been pervasive throughout the election cycle, and we do not anticipate this sentiment will wane as we move forward,” he said.

Mr. George pointed to “Buy America” policies enacted since the Great Recession that favour contracting U.S. suppliers for infrastructure projects over Canadian and other international competitors.

“We will continue to work with you and your stakeholders and customers to make a case to Congress and the administration that Buy American harms the North American economy, harms our integrated supply chains and hurts the competitiveness … of companies on both sides of the border,” he said.

The world shuddered after Mr. Trump rode to victory a week ago on a xenophobic, isolationist platform that includes banning Muslims from entering the United States, building a wall along the Mexican border and tearing up the North American free trade agreement.

Still, Mr. George sounded a note of optimism, arguing that Mr. Trump’s election will not destroy the bond between Canada and its largest trading partner. “Yes, there are going to be bumps along the road, but [Canada’s ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton] does not see the fundamentals of our relationship changing,” he said.

Mr. George reiterated Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge last week to work with Mr. Trump: “The Canada-U.S. relationship is so broad, so unique and so enduring that our two countries have of necessity worked closely together, regardless of who is in office in Ottawa or in Washington, and that is going to continue.”

He also touted Mr. Trump’s promise to build more roads, bridges and other infrastructure as an opportunity for Canadian companies to do business with his government.

“There is a clear, growing interest in public-private partnership models for infrastructure projects across the United States. And as the number of P3 infrastructure projects expand in the U.S., so do the opportunities,” he said. “President-elect Trump says he sees the need for private-sector financing and involvement in infrastructure.”

While the federal government has adopted a conciliatory stand with Mr. Trump, Ontario has been more vocal about its worries over his rise.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has warned that the president-elect’s threats to rip up trade deals could have “dangerous” consequences for the province, which relies on the United States for 80 per cent of its trade.

And on Tuesday, she lamented the “divisiveness” in American politics. Mr. Trump has not only promised religious discrimination, but also pledged in a 60 Minutes interview this weekend to appoint anti-abortion justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The divisiveness and the thinking that has been stirred up south of the border – yes, it disturbs me,” Ms. Wynne said. “I believed that we had gotten to a certain point in terms of protecting women and protecting each other and finding a way to create a safe, inclusive society. And, to the degree that there are people who want to undermine that safe, inclusive society, that’s a real problem.”

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