OTTAWA — In a room flanked by military tanks and warplanes, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada spoke somewhat candidly Tuesday evening about what it's like to work with President Donald Trump.
Kelly Craft made her remarks at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's annual gala at the Canadian War Museum. During a panel mostly focused on NAFTA, she was asked by the moderator what Trump is like in person. The ambassador said the president's business acumen makes him results-driven and focused "like a laser" — but his communication skills could use some work.
"I don't think that he's very good at expressing how we're going to achieve those results. I think that would be very helpful if he laid that out for all of us," Craft said. She turned to her left toward Texas Congressman Pete Sessions, also seated on stage, and asked: "Right?"
Craft and Sessions each delivered speeches and joined a panel discussion about the future of Canada-U.S. relations. Hours earlier, Canada's chief NAFTA negotiator criticized the Americans for not being flexible in talks.
The ambassador offered a different narrative, calling the relationship between Canada and the U.S. "vibrant, cooperative, and as respectful as ever." She took a shot at "the media" and "thought leaders" for suggesting to the public that NAFTA renegotiations have hit an impasse.
"I think that in many ways that Canada might believe that Trump is taking us down a path of not wanting to be trade partners," Craft said, adding, "He wants huge trade. Really big trade."
The event marked her first major speech since being appointed ambassador last fall.
Trump has repeatedly threatened to kill NAFTA if a better deal can't be negotiated between Canada and Mexico.
China will be the winner of any demise between us.U.S. Congressman Pete Sessions
Craft and Sessions also discussed China's influence and what kind of economic benefit that country would see if NAFTA talks collapse. Sessions said lawmakers on both side of the border would be in "uncharted territory" if that were to happen.
"China will be the winner of any demise between us," he said. "China wants the world."
Sessions repeatedly said it's in America's interest to strike a win-win trade deal to make Canada stronger through renegotiations.
Craft followed up and said, "We have to be strong for the rest of the world." She threw a reference to China before being drowned out by applause.
The $195 per ticket event was attended by several parliamentarians including Maxime Bernier, Pierre Poilievre, Lisa Raitt, Wayne Easter, and Pamela Wallin. Former deputy prime minister John Manley was also there.
'Make Canada stronger' echos an old strategy: expert
Both Craft and Sessions' use of the "We must make Canada stronger" argument throughout the event is a throwback to a strategy used by the Americans in NAFTA negotiations with Mexico decades ago, according to one expert on Canada-U.S. relations.
David Dyment, author of "Doing The Continental: A New Canadian-American Relationship," pointed to comments Sessions made about the long-term risk of a bad deal with Mexico.
The congressman said the pressure is on for the U.S. to make a good deal with Mexico — or else face increased immigration issues. "Because if we don't, everybody's going to move to the United States," Sessions said. "Why would we not want Canada and Mexico to do well?"
Dyment explains that anxiety over a surge in immigration was a driving force behind the Americans' motivation to engage with Mexico in original free trade talks. But times have changed.
"That argument does not seem to be engaged when the Americans think about renewing the NAFTA with Mexico," said the Carleton University senior research associate.
The main argument back when NAFTA was first struck was that the deal would put Canada, the U.S., and Mexico in a stronger position to enter a competitive global marketplace.
Dyment told HuffPost Canada that following current renegotiations, "I don't hear any of that language now."
Despite all the focus on NAFTA as a litmus test of sorts for the health of Canada-U.S. relations, Dyment offered some reassurance. The two countries are too intertwined.
"There's just so much breadth and depth to the relationship — so it's hard to break that," he said.
Negotiators are under pressure from the Trump administration to strike a deal soon or face possible delays pending the results of U.S. congressional midterms and Mexico's general election this summer.
The next and seventh round of NAFTA renegotiations will take place in Mexico City from Feb. 26 to March 3.
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