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“We’re in a dream world here, folks.” It was James Blanchard, former governor of Michigan and former ambassador to Canada, talking. He was at a bilateral parley at a Washington conference hosted by the Canadian American Business Council, where a bunch of former ambassadors were sizing up the perils of bilateral relations under Donald Trump.

Mr. Blanchard was talking about how so much was divorced from reality, such as the “dangerous false narrative” of the President using the national security rationale to hit countries like Canada with steel and aluminum tariffs.

“It’s a joke.”

But not to worry. It’s Canada and the United States. That’s the reality, and there is no divorcing this pairing. There’s too much goodwill and good history stored up. The gathered envoys, including Mr. Blanchard, sounded confident that despite Mr. Trump, relations were getting back on track.

They were optimistic steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada would be lifted. Canadian ambassador David MacNaughton went so far as to predict this would happen within weeks.

They were confident that the new trade pact replacing NAFTA would be ratified by Congress. It would be a tough fight, they said, but a few side letters to the agreement would likely be enough to appease the naysayers.

There was even some guarded optimism that the U.S. and China would find a way out of their trade tensions. That could very well get Canada out of its jam with Beijing for having arrested a Huawei company executive at Washington’s behest. It has led to retaliation, after all – the detention of two Canadians in China and a deep chill in relations.

Along with Mr. Blanchard, ambassadors in attendance at the conference included Gordon Giffin, who, like Mr. Blanchard, served under Bill Clinton, and current envoy Kelly Craft. On the Canadian side were Michael Kergin (who served in the post for Jean Chrétien), Gary Doer (Stephen Harper), and Mr. MacNaughton.

That’s a heady group. A lot of experience. A lot of savvy. They weren’t all in agreement, but the dominant feeling was positive. Ratification of the new USMCA trade deal was critical, they said. If it isn’t approved, they couldn’t predict what would unfold. The trading regime might have to revert all the way back to the 1980s and the terms of the original Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement.

For the new accord to pass, Mr. Trump will have to work to keep his Republicans in Congress on board, Mr. Giffin noted. It would help, too, if Peter Navarro, the President’s ultra-protectionist trade adviser, was “sent off to Peru," he said.

At which point, Mr. Doer leaned forward and said: “Not far enough.”

There’s probably not a single country on Earth, writes former Trump aide Cliff Sims in his book Team of Vipers, on whom Mr. Navarro doesn’t want to slap tariffs. He’s also “probably the least diplomatic senior aide in the White House.”

Canada, for its part, still has to ratify the new accord, and that is not likely to happen unless the steel and aluminum tariffs are removed. That’s something Mr. Navarro isn’t likely to support.

Why is Mr. MacNaughton so confident? Because he believes it’s becoming obvious, even to the Trump administration, that the tariffs don’t make sense. They’re hurting both countries. He recalled he was always confident a new NAFTA agreement would be reached, and he is just as confident on the tariff removal. “Even governments,” he sardonically offered, “sometimes end up doing the right things.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford ended the day by participating in a panel discussion in which he wondered how there could possibly be any problems on the trade file. What’s so difficult? “I’m confident I could hammer out a deal in one day.”

He railed at length about the stupidity of anyone believing a carbon tax was a good policy. That’s a view consistent with Mr. Trump’s and likely with Ms. Craft as well, since her husband is a billionaire coal-mining executive.

But while ambassadors took questions from journalist moderators, the Progressive Conservative Premier had it much easier. His moderator was none other than Mr. Trump’s ambassador herself, Ms. Craft.

She spent a half-hour buttering him up, and he returned the favour. They hit it off wonderfully. It was a harmonious note on which to end the day.

Despite the oddities and challenges of being, as Mr. Blanchard put it, in a Trumpian world divorced from reality, bilateral peace will prevail.

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