The federal government is stepping up its diplomatic efforts in key American states over the next three months to make sure the Trump administration can't escape its message about the importance of trade with Canada, a senior government official tells CTV News.

The intensive lobbying effort started last December with relationship-building meetings between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's top aides and U.S. President Donald Trump's most trusted advisers. Last week's visit to Texas, by Trudeau and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, marks the start of a blitz that will see cabinet ministers meet with state legislators and governors in 11 states chosen for their political importance or business ties to Canada.

Even Trudeau's trip to New York City this week to see Come From Away, the Canadian musical about Gander, N.L., welcoming stranded travellers on Sept. 11, 2011, will telegraph a message about the long-time friendship between Canada and the U.S.

Andrew Leslie, the parliamentary secretary in charge of Canada-U.S. relations, will join Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall this week in Iowa, a state chosen both because Canada is its number one export customer, but also because it swung from supporting Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. It's also important because of its prominence, along with New Hampshire, in American politics. It's thought those swing states will be places where politicians and journalists are paying particular attention to international trade.

The visits come as fears ramp up over possible changes to NAFTA, with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hinting at substantive changes, and talk of a border tax.

Trudeau fired back last week over the possibility of a border tax. He said no two countries in the world have the same level of economic integration as Canada and the U.S., and they benefit from “working together in a seamless way.”

“I think anything that creates extra barriers or impediments to the smooth flow of goods will hurt our businesses, will hurt our workers and will limit our capacity to continue to be extraordinarily competitive as a North American entity on the world stage,” he said, speaking at an event in Houston.

“There are still much discussions to be had here in the United States on tax reform and how they move forward, but I’m happy to highlight what I believe, and certainly what I’ve heard from many different industries and global leaders: they think moving in that direction will have unintended consequences that perhaps proponents of a border adjustment tax haven’t fully developed clarity around yet.”

Some of the other states to be targeted are Trump swing states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio. Others are swing states but appealing for additional reasons:

  • Wisconsin is the home state of House Speaker Paul Ryan;
  • Michigan is a state with which Ontario has close ties;
  • Indiana is the home state of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence; and,
  • Florida welcomes several million Canadian tourists every year.

New York, which has state-level Buy America legislation, is also on the list of targeted states, as is California, which exports more than $25 billion a year to Canada and which shares a carbon market with Quebec.

Kentucky made the list of priority engagement states because Canada is its number one export destination and because it's the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Experts have advised the federal government to engage politicians and influential people outside Congress and the White House in order to make their case that bilateral trade is vital to both countries' economies, and let Americans in turn apply pressure not to take drastic measures when it comes to changing the trade relationship.