Alberta Premier Rachel Notley met Monday with governors and congressional leaders in Washington who could influence President Donald Trump's agenda on trade, energy and pipelines – issues that are vital for the province's economic recovery.
She sat down with the governor of Montana and the border state's two senators, as well as the governor of Wyoming, on her first full day in the capital.
Ms. Notley's three-day visit is part of a broader push by Canada's leaders to have all levels of government engage with the new U.S. administration before it pushes ahead with Mr. Trump's plans to reopen the North American free-trade agreement and overhaul U.S. trade relationships.
Ms. Notley's goal is to "make allies and push Alberta's issues to the top of the pile," according to her office.
After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's meeting with Mr. Trump earlier in February, Ms. Notley is the first premier to make the trek to Washington.
She isn't the only provincial leader appealing to a new administration that is openly flirting with protectionism.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is preparing to meet a number of U.S. governors this summer and push the benefits of trade.
British Columbia has appointed an experienced trade politician, former federal cabinet minister David Emerson, as envoy to reach a new softwood-lumber deal with the United States.
While some past federal governments have tried to limit provincial involvement in foreign affairs, Canada's ambassador to the United States is applauding the broader approach to Mr. Trump's administration.
"Engaging stakeholders, from all levels, be it federal or provincial governments, or through our business networks, is an important part of our advocacy work in the U.S.," David MacNaughton said in a statement to The Globe and Mail.
"Premier Notley is helping highlight the tangible and specific ways that the Canadian and U.S economies are intertwined. It is key that we continue to remind our U.S counterparts of the importance of the Canada-U.S. relationship and that Canada is their Number 1 trading partner."
Prior to her trip, Ms. Notley gathered Canada's leading energy executives to hear their concerns. They left the Premier with figures detailing Alberta's trade with the United States and the perils of a potential 20-per-cent border-adjustment tax – proposed by Republican leaders – which could include crude oil imports.
The meetings with governors and members of Congress could pay off in the long-run, according to Scotty Greenwood, a senior adviser to the Canadian American Business Council in Washington.
"A sub-committee chair can be as important as the White House on any given day," she said. "It's easy to think that the only important interlocutor is the President of the United States and if you think that, you're mistaken. It's important to engage thought leaders, governors and members of Congress."
Ms. Notley's visit comes at a sensitive time for her province. With Alberta's economy expected to start growing again in 2017 after a punishing multiyear recession, protectionist rhetoric from the United States could endanger a fragile recovery. More than three-quarters of Alberta's exports, including oil, grains and timber, depend on the U.S. market.
Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said it was important for the Premier to make it understood in the United States that the free flow of energy products between both countries was beneficial for everyone.
"We are large consumers of U.S. manufacturing from many states. That was part of what we wanted to arm the Premier with, as well as our federal elected officials. So when they are having those conversations, they can be quite specific," Mr. McMillan said.
Canada's oil sands operators purchased $1.9-billion worth of goods and services from the United States in 2014 and 2015 according to the energy lobby.
With a focus on balanced trade deals, the new U.S. administration is interested in knowing how much Canadians are importing, according to former Canadian diplomat Paul Frazer. "It's a good news story the Americans would benefit from hearing and they are really receptive to hearing," he said. Mr. Frazer is now president of PD Frazer Associates, a Washington-based consultancy on Canada-U.S. relations.
His message to Ms. Notley: "Just when you're tired of repeating your message, repeat it again."
While B.C. Premier Christy Clark isn't planning a trip to Washington, an official in her office said she is optimistic a softwood lumber deal can be reached with the new White House. The spokesperson added the new administration has signalled it is eager to solve the possible dispute.