Prime Minister goes on ‘Team Canada’ charm offensive on visit to Philadelphia

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Posted on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at 6:10 amEDT

Last updated Tuesday May 21, 2024 9:28 pmEDT

There is much work to be done to fight for progressive and working-class values ​​on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday during a trip to Philadelphia.

The trip came about through an invitation to speak at the Service Employees International Union’s quadrennial North American convention, but he spent much of the day meeting with politicians and business leaders, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro. .

It was his first trip south of the border since launching a new “Team Canada” charm offensive that revamped the sales approach that began during Donald Trump’s first presidency, when unpredictable trade decisions tested the U.S. relationship. and Canada.

That approach sought regular meetings beyond the White House, with members of the U.S. Congress, state governments, municipal leaders and business executives, all to ensure they understood and agreed that strong ties with Canada are beneficial on both sides of the aisle. border.

While the approach didn’t disappear entirely, it lost some steam after President Joe Biden won, providing liberals with an American government that shares more of their values ​​and policies.

That closeness was evident Tuesday when both Trudeau and Harris gave speeches to the SEIU that overlapped considerably, including discussions about making medicine cheaper, protecting abortion rights and raising wages.

Trudeau did not agree that his presence was an implicit endorsement of Biden; He insists that he is not choosing sides in another country’s elections.

And Trudeau and Canada’s ambassador to Washington, Kirsten Hillman, insist Canada’s approach would be the same with or without Trump in the November election.

“This is a message that is relevant at any given moment,” Trudeau told reporters.

Trudeau dodged questions about how worried he is about the possibility of a Trump 2.0 presidency, saying what worked before should work again.

“One of the things we saw during Mr. Trump’s first term was that the best argument for why Canada should not be hit by tariffs or punitively protectionist measures was that that would also hurt American jobs,” Trudeau said.

“That’s why I noted today that here in Pennsylvania, Canada is the state’s number one export partner, larger than the next four foreign destinations combined.”

Canada likes to point out that 7.8 million American jobs depend on trade with Canada, while 2.2 million Canadian jobs depend on trade with the United States.

He seemed to find a new ally in Shapiro, first elected governor just two years ago, but considered a rising star of the Democratic Party in the United States with thoughts of running for president in 2028.

The two shared a brief bilateral meeting before sharing the stage at a Canadian reception for Philadelphia business leaders, artists and academics.

Shapiro told Trudeau he hoped to lead Pennsylvania to become the leading renewable energy state in the U.S., following what he said was Canada’s lead on the record.

He even parroted one of Trudeau’s favorite lines about diversity being a strength.

Both leaders trumpeted the need to defend freedom and democracy in the face of rising levels of misinformation, attacks on institutions, and a growing sense of distrust among citizens toward their leaders.

In his speech to thousands of delegates at the SEIU convention, Trudeau highlighted his government’s record of support for unions, but also spoke to them about the need to grow the relationship between the United States and Canada.

“In this time of global crisis and deep uncertainty, Canada and the United States know we can count on each other,” Trudeau said.

“Today more than ever we must remember how valuable a partnership like ours is.”

Americans are heading toward a presidential election that will be pivotal for both countries.

A possible return to the White House of Donald Trump brings back memories of the difficult bilateral relationship during his first term.

He has already promised to introduce a flat 10 percent import tax on all countries if he wins a second time.

Trudeau and Hillman downplayed that threat to Canada on Tuesday, saying the North American free trade agreement that was renegotiated under President Trump at his request protects Canada from any such imposition.

Canada is the largest export player in the US economy, accounting for almost one-fifth of total US exports. Mexico represents approximately one sixth and China less than one tenth.

But the United States is a much more dominant market for Canadian exports: it will account for 77 per cent of all Canadian exports in 2023, or nearly $600 billion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2024.