Talk to the U.S. like a customer, former ambassador tells business audience

WINNIPEG – The man who served as Canada’s ambassador to the United States up until March does not appear overly concerned about the impact of Donald Trump’s election win on business.

Gary Doer told a chamber of commerce luncheon in Winnipeg that while president-elect Trump has criticized free-trade deals, he has pro-trade people on his transition team such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Doer also said that in his six-year term as ambassador, protectionist measures sometimes came more from Democrats than Republicans.

Doer said there are challenges ahead, such as Trump’s plan to tax profits made by U.S. companies in other countries.

But he said many people predicted cross-border trade and investment would drop when Ronald Reagan was elected and it didn’t happen.

He said the key for Canadian firms is to remind the U.S. that Canada is its biggest customer and buys more American goods than the European Union.

“You’ve got to be as populist as the populist president-elect, and you’ve got to talk as customers over and over and over again to get through in Washington,” Doer told the business crowd.

Canada also has an advantage over other countries when it comes to trade with the U.S., Doer said — unions that represent workers on both sides of the border.

He said when he got to Washington, the steel plant in Selkirk, north of Winnipeg, was under threat from trade restriction provisions.

“The steelworkers are the same union in Selkirk as they were in the United States. I went to the union and said we need help getting a waiver from the nine provisions … that completely negated Canadian companies from competing,” Doer said.

“I think the chamber (of commerce) and labour should work together … because we have a mutual interest in employment.”

Doer, who was Manitoba premier for a decade before being named ambassador, later told reporters Trump may be more conciliatory than expected on a number of issues with his political opponents.

“President-elect Trump had some pretty interesting things to say during the election campaign, but he prides himself as being a deal-maker and I think there will be an attempt in Washington to end the gridlock and come to an agreement on budgets and different matters.

“I’m an eternal optimist and I’m going to take the optimistic view.”