Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will name retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie to the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations in an effort to forge closer ties with former military commanders that are playing leading roles in president-elect Donald Trump's administration.
A senior official told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Trudeau is also reassigning some of his most trusted advisers to key positions on U.S. affairs as Ottawa prepares for Friday's inauguration of Mr. Trump, who campaigned on an America-first trade policy and appears intent on jostling the pillars of postwar U.S. foreign policy.
Mr. Leslie, now a Liberal MP, is on good terms with Mr. Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn, a former Army lieutenant-general, and retired Marine general James Mattis, the nominee for U.S. secretary of defence. Mr. Leslie has much in common with both generals, having served in Afghanistan. Later as army commander, Mr. Leslie was awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit - Degree of Commander by President George W. Bush in 2006 for his efforts to work closely with the American military.
Mr. Trudeau will also appoint Mr. Leslie as parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with special responsibilities for Canada-U.S. relations. The former Canadian Army commander had been chief government whip after he was elected to Parliament in 2015.
It's rare for a parliamentary secretary to serve on a cabinet committee, a move designed to give Mr. Leslie prestige and entree to the incoming Trump team that includes rich corporate executives and former generals in senior positions of power.
"We have drawn the conclusion that the two kinds of people these guys rely on is billionaires and generals. We want to put him in a position where he can have good relationships in an official capacity," a senior official said. "He knows all these [military] guys."
U.S. allies became alarmed after Mr. Trump questioned the usefulness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and indifference to the European Union while espousing closer ties to Russia and a tougher stand against China.
The Prime Minister is also moving his deputy chief of staff, Jeremy Broadhurst, to the Department of Foreign Affairs as chief of staff to Ms. Freeland, who was named Foreign Affairs Minister in last week's cabinet shuffle.
Ms. Freeland's former chief of staff at International Trade, Brian Clow, is being moved to the Prime Minister's Office to take on a new role as co-ordinator of Canada-U.S. affairs across the federal government.
Julian Ovens, who was chief of staff to Stéphane Dion, will move to the same role for new International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne.
Ms. Freeland and Mr. Trudeau's principal secretary Gerald Butts and chief of staff Katie Telford have already held discussions with Mr. Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Stephen Bannon, the chief strategist and senior counsellor to the incoming president.
It is all part of a major effort to build credibility and a trusting relationship with the Trump administration to protect Canada's economy from expected protectionist measures, including a possible border tax.
Outgoing U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman praised the Trudeau government for seeking to develop a rapport with the Trump cabinet and White House staff.
"The best thing you can do is get in there and start building relationships and don't wait," Mr. Heyman said in an interview. "If you have relationships with people and you build relationships of trust, then you can pick up the phone or fly in and sit down and have a meeting and have an opportunity to describe your perspective. If you don't have a relationship, you are left out in the cold."
Mr. Heyman, who leaves Ottawa on Thursday, said he has "some personal relationships with some members of the [Trump] government and it is possible I can be helpful," particularly in making the case to Mr. Trump's economic team that the United States has a $39-billion trade surplus with Canada.
"It is not a complex thing to understand but it is a set of facts," he said. "The fact that two thirds of U.S. states – Republican and Democrat alike, their number one export market is Canada."