'Don't lose your cool': Former PM Chretien on rocky U.S. relations
Jeff Lagerquist, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, June 12, 2017 8:55PM EDT
The state of Canada-U.S. relations is often “kind of a crisis,” according to former prime minister Jean Chretien. His advice to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and company: “Don’t lose your cool.”
Reflecting on his time in office, he explained that dust-ups over foreign policy directives and trade ties have long been the norm for the two nations, and the current list of divergences between Ottawa and Washington are far from unique.
“I’m not nervous,” Chretien told CTV News. “When I said no to the war in Iraq, a lot of people were not happy with me in the United States, and we survived rather well.”
His remarks follow a wide-ranging address to the International Economic Forum of the Americas on Monday in which the Shawinigan, Que.-native expressed optimism for the looming NAFTA negotiations, and predicted emerging markets in China and Africa will take the lead in driving global growth.
Chretien’s reassurances followed a rather blunt assessment of the protracted cross-border dispute over softwood lumber. Speaking at the same event in Montreal, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland suggested both sides remain “quite far apart,” and hinted that her hopes for a quick resolution are rapidly waning.
Freeland has also recently called for Canada to spend billions to bolster its military might in order to rely less heavily on partnership with the U.S.
“There are always problems when you have almost $2 billion in trade per day,” Chretien said. “That creates a bump and you navigate around it. Don’t lose your cool. That is the way to do it.”
Chretien insisted that NAFTA will endure U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” trade stance, which he predicts will not have the desired impact on U.S. employment. He said if auto sector jobs were to return to Michigan, for example, those positions would be quickly swallowed by the rising tide of industrial automation.
Much of the former prime minister’s speech focused on shifting dynamics within the global economy. Specifically, the increasingly important role of youthful emerging markets such as China, India, and one day Africa. Canada’s economy, he said, is about to suffer the effects of its rapidly aging workforce.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities for growth, but not in mature economies,” he said. “We need people to work to pay taxes, to pay for all the people who will be in retirement, who will need more health care services.”
One way Chretien sees Canada bolstering its labour force in the coming years is through its immigration policy. He said Canada was built by immigration, and that trend will need to continue.
“Here in Canada, one advantage we have is we are more open to immigration than most of the countries in the world. Our prime minister and the government has welcomed Syrian refugees, 35,000 the first year,” Chretien said. “These people are an asset the day they arrive. Why? Because they become a consumer the first day.”