Canada’s top diplomat says that beyond the focus Thursday’s trilateral brings to continental concerns, it will deliver intangibles that are not to be discounted.
“We've all survived through Zoom, but nothing can replace people sitting down together and having a free-flowing, honest conversation,” Kirsten Hillman tells POLITICO ahead of Thursday’s in-person meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The White House meeting will be the first gathering of the “Three Amigos” since 2017.
With Covid-19 recovery a shared priority, Biden’s Buy American agenda is certain to come up — including the president’s plan to create a tax credit for electric vehicles made in the U.S.
Hillman said Tuesday that the summit offers leaders the chance to hear what each country is up against. “The key to doing things well together is really understanding where your partner sits and what they're facing. That is concrete. That's not just sort of talking, that is really understanding each other. That is job one.”
POLITICO spoke with Canada’s Washington envoy about trade irritants, climate priorities and the work that went into Thursday’s White House gathering.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
How does your world change when the prime minister comes to town?
Having the prime minister come to town to meet with President Biden, but also President López Obrador, is very good for the work that we do here. It focuses everybody's mind.
Our mind is always focused on what we need to be doing here in the United States, but it really helps focus the mind of all of our American friends and our Mexican friends, because they have to deliver for their leaders. They have to deliver cogent analysis, they have to explain what's on our mind. We have to come up with things that we want to do together. We have to reflect on the relationship and where it's going, and what we want from it. So it's terrific.
It's also frankly terrific because of the personal contact and in-person meetings. We've all survived through Zoom, but nothing can replace people sitting down together and having a free-flowing, honest conversation.
This seemed to come together very quickly. How long was the summit in the works?
Since the Biden administration took office, they have been saying it's important to us to get the North American leaders together again. They didn't get together under Trump. We were the last ones to host. It's their turn, and they wanted to do it.
Starting in the late fall, that's when people really started to say, Okay, I think we should really try and get this done before the end of the year, this is really important. We've really, as a continent, got a lot of things that we're trying to grapple with together. Economic issues have been front and center in all three countries recovering from Covid.
It's been about a month of really starting to plan in earnest, but it wasn't actually decided until quite recently that it was going to be able to happen.
Trudeau and Biden have a solid personal relationship. But there are clear policy differences — for example, protectionist measures like a tax incentive for electric vehicle manufacturers that could hurt Canada's economic interests. How do their personal relations make a difference on thorny files?
Our ability to make sure that we advance the interests of Canadians is a task that requires a multitude of relationships, and a multitude of allies and partners in the administration, on the Hill, at the state level, in local governments, in industry, in civil society.
Because we have relationships everywhere, calling upon and using those relationships can contribute to solutions.
That being said, there is no question that when the leaders of the federal governments get along very, very well, that is helpful, because they can talk frankly and openly with each other, and they have a lot of mutual respect, and they want to solve problems together.
People who are even the best of friends have disagreements. But I think the mark of a strong relationship either at the human level, or the nation-to-nation level, is that you can have these disagreements even in the strongest terms, and you can find a way to work through them.
Canadian politicians and diplomats networked everywhere they could in bid to save the free trade agreement. That was in part a response to Donald Trump's unpredictability. How do you leverage those relationships with a White House that's less unpredictable but has clear policy disagreements?
The first thing to recognize is that things that affect Canada and Canadians don't all come out of the White House. There are policies and agendas at the state and local level that can have a really big impact on Canada and Canadians. Line 5 is a very good example. Line 5 is a state-level decision. There are lots of good policy initiatives that allow us to really work with our local partners. And then there can be challenges.
The good news is that we have 12 offices across this country, each one headed by a consul general that has their team. Their job is to really understand their region, to really understand the local politics, the state level politics, the cities, the mayors, the business community, the academic community. And so it's like a two-way communication. They let us know when things are happening in a particular region that are either fantastic — and we really should amplify — or to say, hey, there's a regulation over here in State X that we should be paying attention to. That is a huge capacity that we use every single day.
Is it frustrating to have a president who's more ideologically aligned with the prime minister at a high level but on a different page in the execution? For example, both men agree about the urgency of climate change. But the prime minister would have preferred that Keystone XL go ahead.
I don't succumb to frustration. I don't think it's necessary. We have C$2.4 billion worth of bilateral trade with the Americans every day. Covid has done a bit of a number on our numbers. But it's over C$2 billion of bilateral trading goods and services every single day. That's the trade that some countries do in six months. We have 400,000 to 500,000 people, in normal times, crossing between our two countries every single day. We have deep ties, family, business, students, researchers, in all ways. And the vast majority of what we do with the Americans is highly productive, highly successful, highly mutually beneficial.
We're really lucky to have this country as our neighbor. We're not fighting, in the real sense, with our neighbor. And many, many countries around the world are. Even when we're not politically aligned, we're not fundamentally ideologically misaligned. We don't have to worry about this very long, non-militarized border in any way that's significant.
But with a relationship that deep, that multifaceted, that intense every single day, there's going to be things that we disagree on. And when we disagree on them, they're going to be things that really matter because the relationship really matters. Will we always get exactly what we want? Probably not. Will they? Probably not. Because fundamentally, each government is working for its own citizens. That's their number one responsibility.
- Liberals propose new committee with arbiters to study firing of scientists at Winnipeg lab | Canada News
- Brazil police find Nazi memorabilia in suspected pedophile's home worth 3 million euros | Canada News
- NDP calls for inquiry into limited polling stations and long waits on election night
( Information from politico.com was used in this report. To Read More, click here )