Full interview: Canadian ambassador to U.S. David MacNaughton on Trump
Published Thursday, January 19, 2017 10:06PM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 20, 2017 10:46AM EST
Canada’s ambassador to the United States David MacNaughton is the face of the country in Washington D.C. On the eve of President-elect Donald Trump’s historic inauguration, MacNaughton discussed why he’s remaining optimistic about working with the Trump administration, particularly on trade negotiations such as NAFTA.
MacNaughton spoke to CTV National News Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme from the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C.
Lisa LaFlamme: I am wondering your thoughts now on the eve of this inauguration, given the significant shift that it is going to cause. Obviously a lot of people believed this would be a Hillary Clinton inauguration.
David MacNaughton: Well, you know, it was going to be a change under any circumstance. And I think that we’re looking forward to working with the new administration. We’ve already had quite a few interactions with the transition team. I think the most important thing about tomorrow is really a celebration of a transition that is a peaceful transition in a democracy. And I think that’s really the focus of our celebration with Americans about a democracy that changes governments without all sorts of upheaval you have in places that aren’t democracies. So that’s really the focus of our celebration with the Americans tomorrow.
Now former prime minister Stephen Harper just said in a speech that this is a landmark shift in U.S. foreign policy – the largest since the Second World War. Some pretty ominous words. What’s your reaction to that?
You know, I think we should take our time and see exactly what happens. I don’t think we should be jumping to conclusions. When you look at the president-elect’s nominees for some of these positions, you take a person like Rex Tillerson. He’s a tremendously accomplished person, he’s a smart person, he’s been around the world. I’ve met with Wilbur Ross, who’s going to be, if he’s approved, the commerce secretary. Smart person. Very knowledgeable. I think we should wait and see. From a Canadian point of view, we’ve already started having discussions with these people. And so far, it isn’t to say it will be easy because they have very clear American interests in mind. But I think because of the common nature of our economies and the benefit of working together, I think it’s going to work out okay.
When you went to those meetings, first of all, what was it like in Trump Tower?
I didn’t go to the Trump Tower, I wasn’t at the Trump Tower. But no, the meetings have been good. They’ve been positive and we’re just trying to find areas where – we don’t agree on everything, we’re not going to – but we’re trying to find areas where we agree and work together. And that’s been the approach so far.
Were you comfortable with the knowledge they seem to have of Canada, or did you think that fell short?
You know, I think with Americans generally, unless they are actually border town, I find there are things that we can talk to them about that increase their knowledge. I mean, I’ve got to tell you, since I’ve been here in Washington, I thought I knew a lot about the Canada-U.S. relationship. But it’s amazing how much we all don’t know about how deep and how broad that relationship is. And so yeah, part of it is an education process. They have an awful lot of goodwill towards Canada. And I think it’s really trying to find out how to translate that goodwill into things that are going to create good, solid, middle-class jobs for Canadians and Americans.
Well certainly you mentioned Wilbur Ross, and one of the things he said out loud is everything is on the table when it comes to NAFTA.
Yeah, well he also said that Canada is not really the problem. And we’ve got a balanced trade with the United States of America. And I said right after the election we’re happy to talk about anything in NAFTA as long as it’s going to improve Canada’s economy and the United States’ economy. And I think that’s really what the focus is.
How quickly do you think that’s going to happen? What are you understanding in your relations with them, in your early meetings?
They’re very impatient. And they’re very results-oriented. And so are we. So I think things will move reasonably quickly. You know, it’s never easy when you start talking about things that affect thousands and thousands -- millions – nine million jobs in the United States depend on trade with Canada. It’s going to take time, but I think the sooner that we can clarify that we’re working positively together, that’ll be good for Canadians and Americans, and really stabilize some questions that people have about, or uncertainty, about what’s going to happen. I think we need to clarify that so people get on with their lives and help create jobs.
But it is the uncertainty. That’s exactly what nobody can predict. Because you say they’re impatient, but we all know trade negotiations can lag on forever.
They can. But, you know, I think certainly in my experience with them, they are focused on, as I say, getting positive results. And I think that we’ve outlined a number of areas where I think we can make really positive progress.
And you feel optimistic then that we are not coming up against a big wall here – and of course, we know that it’s the southern wall that he most (wants).
You know, I don’t get any sense that there’s going to be – they’re going to be tough negotiations, because the Americans are not, these guys are not push-overs. But neither are we. And I think it’s really to try to focus on a business-like relationship that will be positive for both sides. And so far, that’s the discussions we’ve been having. It’s all been geared toward positive outcomes for both countries.
What about your reaction to the fact that an early-morning tweet can actually impact the Canadian dollar?
It’s a different world. This is a different administration with a different style. And I guess we’re all going to have to live with it. But the reality is as I said. When you look at General (John) Kelly is the homeland security secretary, when you look at Tillerson, when you look at Wilbur Ross, I mean, these are very, very solid professional people. And I think we’ve got a good relationship with them. And sure, in the White House, the people they’ve nominated or appointed – Reince Priebus, and (Trump’s son-in-law Jared) Kushner, and (former chair of Breitbart News Steve) Bannon – we’ve had good relationships with them too. So I’m optimistic. I’m normally optimistic anyway. But this is such an important relationship. We have to enter into this in a way and say, let’s make it work for both of us.
Give me a sense of what the Canadian embassy is actually putting on show tomorrow during the inauguration. What’s the party like here at the embassy?
There will be 1,400 people down on the main floor and outside. We’ve got tents set up, we have poutine and beavertails and all sorts of Canadian foods. And obviously because it’s our 150th anniversary, we want to profile Canada and invite Americans to come to Canada this year. There’ll be big-screen TVs watching what you’re broadcasting. The swearing in is at 11:30 a.m., we’ve got a front-row seat to the parade, which starts at 2:30 p.m. We’re the only embassy between the capitol building and the White House. So it’s a very highly valued spot to be. So we’re looking forward to it tomorrow.