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Former prime minister Brian Mulroney participates in a toast with his wife Mila and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a ceremony after receiving the insignia of Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honour from the Embassy of France, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 in Ottawa.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney says Justin Trudeau's government has an opportunity to forge a constructive relationship with U.S. president-elect Donald Trump that could bring significant benefits to both countries.

Mr. Mulroney told reporters on Tuesday that he has spoken to Mr. Trump, whom he's known for more than 20 years, about the importance of Canada to the United States.

"I don't think Mr. Trump or the administration views Canada with any hostility at all. On the contrary. My impression is that he views Canada with favour. And no one, that I can see, is looking to pick a fight," Mr. Mulroney said.

"It would be to their advantage to celebrate this important bilateral relationship."

Mr. Mulroney, who lives on the same street as the president-elect in Palm Beach, said he's also spoken to several members of Mr. Trump's cabinet, but did not name them.

He said Mr. Trump, whom he called a "gentleman," called him after the American election last month.

"I think that the Canada-U.S. relationship is off on a pretty good footing. Mr. Trudeau had an excellent conversation with him a few days after his election. The president-elect Trump spoke to me about that, how pleased he was," Mr. Mulroney said.

"So I encouraged him strongly of course to make this an important part of his international policies, namely the Canada-U.S. friendship. And my guess is … that that's what's going to happen. They seem to be well-launched."

Mr. Trudeau showed up at the French embassy on Tuesday night to pay tribute to the former conservative prime minister. Mr. Mulroney was in Ottawa to be inducted as a Commander of the Legion of Honour – the first Canadian prime minister to receive France's highest civilian award. It's a sign Mr. Trudeau will want to use Mr. Mulroney as a conduit to the Trump White House. Mr. Mulroney had significant success with presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in achieving historic agreements, from the acid rain treaty to the Canada-U.S free-trade deal and the North America free-trade agreement that he negotiated with the Clinton administration.

Mr. Trump has vowed to rip up NAFTA if Mexico and Canada refused to make changes that would benefit the United States. David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to Washington, has already said Mr. Trudeau is willing to sit down at the bargaining table with the Trump administration.

But Mr. Mulroney brushed off concerns that Canada would be affected by such a renegotiation, saying Mexico is the prime target.

"I think when Donald was talking about NAFTA during the campaign, he was really talking about Mexico, essentially. Can NAFTA be refurbished and refreshed after 25 years? Of course," Mr. Mulroney told CTV's Power Play in an interview on Tuesday.