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Bruce Heyman was the U.S. ambassador to Canada from 2014 to 2017, and the co-author, with his wife Vicki Heyman, of the book The Art of Diplomacy.

It started as a regular Sunday in June, 2018. My wife, Vicki, and I, were going about our usual Sunday-morning ritual: getting settled in with our newspapers and tuning in to the political shows.

It had been more than a year since I left Ottawa after serving as U.S. ambassador to Canada, having been appointed by Barack Obama in 2014. That posting had come to an abrupt end when the incoming Trump administration did not ask Obama-era appointees to stay on. It was the honour of a lifetime to have served my country, but based on Mr. Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail, that wasn’t much of a surprise.

But as fast as I returned to civilian life, something happened that Sunday that pulled me right back into my ambassador mode, championing the importance of Canada-U.S. relations.

“There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door," said Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s trade adviser, after a Group of Seven summit in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized the U.S. President for refusing to sign a communique. “That’s what bad-faith Justin Trudeau did with that stunt press conference. That’s what weak, dishonest Justin Trudeau did, and that comes right from Air Force One."

Vicki and I were in shock. Was this actually happening? Why was our White House threatening Canada, our best friend and long-time ally? And why now, since it was the Trump administration that had slapped Canada with tariffs on their steel and aluminum just a few weeks prior?

Mr. Navarro’s statement called to mind a notion that crystallized in my head during my term as ambassador – about what diplomacy is, and what it is not. During my time in Canada, I had the opportunity to see true diplomacy in action, and to practise it myself.

I learned many lessons, some profound (Canadians are generous, kind and quietly proud people with a highly developed sense of social justice) and some mundane (ambassadors don’t always bring Timbits and coffee to the embassy staff, even though Vicki and I made a point to). But mostly, I had to learn what diplomacy is: gingerly untying knots so that your allies have more rope, not less; understanding the value of partnerships, of finding common ground; and co-operation that creates a desirable outcome not just for your own country, but for all.

I also learned what diplomacy most decidedly is not. Relationships cannot be based on childish polarities and binary transactions seen through the lens of winners versus losers, deal versus no deal, us versus them or statements such as “make America great again," that are seen by the rest of the world as a need for the United States to make others worse off. Even with a relationship as sturdy as ours, it was the kind of rhetoric that threatened to undo decades of work. This was bad-faith diplomacy in action.

Diplomacy is about listening and taking the time to understand another perspective before promoting your own beliefs.

One of the fundamental lessons that I have carried forward into my personal and professional life beyond my term was this: Two people can look at the same thing and see it differently – and both be right. This is especially true when cultural differences are present and it’s important in matters of diplomacy. I grew into this perspective as most diplomats do.

I also learned never to underestimate how significant something is to someone else, even if you may not personally appreciate its importance. Early on in my term, at a public forum, I compared some Canada-U.S. stress points – such as the delays in approving the ultimately rejected Keystone XL pipeline – to a scratch on a shiny new car. I minimized these concerns as small irritants in an overall great relationship. The reaction from the Canadian people and media was swift and negative, and I regret that I underestimated the significance of these issues. Diplomacy isn’t just about saying sweet nothings – it’s about listening closely and understanding what one needs to hear, and when.

It’s also about being open to changing your own opinion after gathering more context and information. I learned that my job as ambassador was not simply to stick to my guns, but to determine when it was necessary to go back to Washington and explain the Canadian viewpoint. During my tenure, the Canadian desire to expand preclearance locations, enabling Canadians to clear U.S. customs in Canada rather than at their U.S. destination, was not necessarily a top priority for the United States. But after extensive discussions and with my eventual championing, it became a signature accomplishment. There were differences of opinion and compromise on both sides, but ultimately, we came to an equitable arrangement. Through this process, what appears at first to be a one-sided scenario can evolve into a win-win over time. But that only happens when parties on both sides behave respectfully – in other words, when they know how to disagree without being disagreeable, and when they stick to the process of consensus-building and compromise.

Through a willingness to listen, learn and admit my own mistakes, I became much better at these things over my term. That is diplomacy.

We saw that art at play during the Paris accord, when more than 170 countries worked together to sign a landmark agreement to combat climate change – an agreement that Mr. Trump has now reneged on, but to which Canada remains committed. We saw that art employed during the Ebola crisis from 2014 to 2016; when Mr. Obama urged the world to work together to stem the spread of the deadly disease, I asked Canada to join the cause on behalf of the United States. Canada obliged, offering $65-million to support international efforts led by the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). Think too of NATO and NORAD and our common border: all are examples of our ability to work together to protect our shared interests.

But throughout his presidency, Mr. Trump has treated Canada unfairly and looked at Canadians only in transactional terms. It is as if he sees John F. Kennedy’s famous words about our special relationship as a personal threat: “Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder.”

This is best exemplified in his view of the North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA), the 25-year-old deal that helped streamline trade between the three countries to the tune of a staggering US$670-billion a year between the United States and Canada alone, making Canada the United States’ No. 1 trading partner. Yes, it can be argued that elements of the agreement are antiquated and in need of refreshing for the 21st century. But it is certainly not a deal that takes advantage of the United States, as Mr. Trump would have one believe.

NAFTA integrated supply chains and capitalized on skills, talents and resources across North America. While Canada’s overall trade with the United States has now fallen just below that with China, the United States has a rare trade surplus in goods and services with Canada, compared with a multihundred-billion-dollar deficit with China. Canadian companies have invested aggressively in the United States, creating millions of American jobs along the way. Business activity and business investment have been enhanced thanks to the increased certainty that comes from having a rules-based trade agreement.

But Mr. Trump employed his typical “art of the deal” tactics and made NAFTA his political punching bag, with little regard as to how this will affect our relationship with Canada going forward. Mr. Trump wants to replace NAFTA with a “U.S.-first” United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which is not significantly different, and because it hasn’t officially passed yet, is being wielded as a cudgel in continuing relations.

With friends like these, who needs enemies? And that’s the real concern: If the rest of the world cannot depend on the United States, then who will come to the aid of the United States if a real global crisis arises while Mr. Trump is in power?

In 1969, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau told the Washington press what it was like for Canadians to share a border with the United States. “Living next to you,” he said, “is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast … one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Canada is no longer sleeping with an elephant – but with a fire-breathing dragon.

But we, the United States, can’t leave Canada alone like that any more. For our part, Vicki and I as private citizens are speaking up on behalf of the millions of Americans who don’t share the values of our current administration. We have not lost hope that the future will be brighter, and in fact, we are seeing exciting new electoral leaders coming forward to run in the next U.S. presidential election. The face of the future will not look like the present, and the Canada-U.S. relationship will withstand the tribulations and challenges it has faced in recent years.

An alliance this deep and profound cannot be broken by this moment of aberration. Canadians should remember the recent midterm elections have created a more even balance of power, with Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives. These checks and balances were non-functional over the first two years of the Trump administration because Republicans have refused to stand up to the President and put country over party. But in just a few short months, the new, younger, more diverse Democratic House majority is making its mark by focusing on legislation and holding the executive branch accountable. In midterm voting numbers, we see that the outrage around the Trump presidency has in and of itself energized the electorate in a way that will undoubtedly continue into 2020.

Energized U.S. voters, progressive business leaders, truth-telling artists and new political trailblazers universally agree: Canada is our best friend and the ideal neighbour. The relationship between our two countries is bigger than any one person or political party, and the American people will not let that relationship be permanently damaged.

Indeed, over the course of history, we have had our differences, and in the moment, they may have felt insurmountable. Jean Chrétien’s antagonism around the 2003 Iraq War raised hackles in the United States; Richard Nixon’s rebuke of the “sentimental rhetoric” of the special relationship in a 1972 speech to Parliament highlighted his testy relationship with Mr. Trudeau. But with time, we have corrected course. We are confident we will again.

Canadians taught me that it behooves us to make a point without making an enemy, to break bread rather than agreements, to open doors rather than build walls, to celebrate difference rather than suppress it, to protect our resources and – most importantly – to protect each other.

We know it will take some time for Canada to trust the United States again. We will work together, as we always have, to make things right. But know that we are here with you, Canada, as friends, family and neighbours. And we are committed to doing what it takes to make our relationship great again.

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