Canada's ambassador to the U.S. says protectionists feeling stronger with Trump

MONTREAL – Canada must put together a team to educate Donald Trump and other Americans on the benefits of free trade, the country’s ambassador to the United States said Wednesday.

Trade has become a “dirty” word south of the border and protectionists feel emboldened by the election of Trump, David MacNaughton told a business lunch crowd in Montreal.

President-elect Trump consistently criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, during the campaign.

It is unclear, however, what steps he will take to address discontent with the agreement once he takes office.

“This is about education,” MacNaughton said, adding nine million jobs in the U.S. directly depend on trade with Canada and 35 states have Canada as their leading trade partner.

He said business, labour and all the provinces must come together and show a common front as Trump takes office.

“We need to be able to put a team together that is broad-based and part of that will be the education not just of Donald Trump’s people but the American people — on a scale that we haven’t done before,” MacNaughton said. “I think we have to work harder at it.”

Canada’s softwood lumber trade negotiations with the U.S. will also likely become more difficult when Trump takes office, MacNaughton said.

Forests in Canada are managed by governments as opposed to the private sector like in the U.S., and therefore American producers have long complained that Canada is unfairly subsidizing its lumber products.

MacNaughton said the real issue is that the Americans don’t really care about Canada’s subsidies.

“They want to manage the trade,” he told reporters after his speech. “And they want to manage it to a market share instead of some open market system, even with tariffs.”

Raymond Chretien, Canada’s former ambassador to the U.S. who is currently representing Quebec’s interests in the lumber negotiations, told the crowd after MacNaughton’s speech that “the Americans never give gifts.”

“They negotiate tooth and nail for their interests,” he said. “And because they are richer than us we have to fight hard to protect our interests.”

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had 26 as the number of states with Canada as leading trade partner