Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's second edition of mandate letters to cabinet ministers has a more muscular quality than the first set. For all of President Donald Trump's many faults, his arrival is at least concentrating minds in Ottawa.
Early in Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's mandate letter, Mr. Trudeau emphasizes that the United States is Canada's "closest ally and most important economic security partner." No matter who is president, it's true.
And now, more than ever, border security and terrorism are U.S. preoccupations. As a result, Foreign Affairs and National Defence must work closely together. And Defence, which more than a year ago was told to fulfill a Liberal election promise by creating a peacekeeping-like mission – somewhere, anywhere – may have to de-emphasize that plan. An impending Canadian military intervention in Mali, serving an electoral interest more than the national interest, is likely on hold.
Economic partnership is a matter of life-and-death for a trading country like Canada. François-Philippe Champagne, the new Minister of International Trade, will need to work hard to restrain the economic nationalism that seems to come second nature to President Trump.
Ms. Freeland and Mr. Champagne cannot change the President's deep-seated instincts. But they can work with other allies to maintain the economic institutions of the Western world. One of Mr. Champagne's first tasks in his mandate letter is to lead in ratifying and implementing CETA, the Canada-EU trade agreement.
And in keeping trade free and rules-based, Canada will have many allies south of the border. American businesses need to export their goods and services, so it's not in the U.S. interest to wreck the World Trade Organization or other multilateral trade agreements – even if the Trump administration appears to want to wreak havoc.
And Mr. Trudeau's mandate letters are right to direct his ministers to try to sustain trilateral co-operation in North America. Yes, the Trump administration may favour bilateral dealing, perhaps to divide and conquer. Yes, if the Americans insist, Canada may have to drop NAFTA. But there's no reason to be eager to do so.