OTTAWA — U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence has been a valuable partner to Canada because he supports free trade, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday.
Freeland says the government is looking forward to getting an update on U.S. efforts to ratify the new North American free trade pact when Pence visits Ottawa next week.
Canada has yet to table legislation in Parliament to ratify the new version of the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, a treaty President Donald Trump has lambasted and repeatedly threatened to tear up. In the past, Freeland has labelled the Trump administration as protectionist, especially during the long and sometimes bitter NAFTA renegotiation.
Watch: Freeland says Canadians were ‘so nice’ during tense trade talks
Freeland presented a more conciliatory view of Pence, who will be in Ottawa next Thursday following the Trump administration’s decision last week to lift its controversial tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum. Canada and Mexico said it would have been difficult to ratify the new trade deal with the metals tariffs in place.
“It’s important for Canadians to remember that Vice-President Pence has been a strong and effective supporter of free trade. He has been someone who has spoken out in the United States about the value of NAFTA for both Canadians and Americans,” Freeland said after touring the Rio Tinto aluminum plant in Jonquiere, Que.
Freeland said Canada especially appreciated Pence’s positive comments about NAFTA during the July 2017 meeting of U.S. state governors in Rhode Island, which Freeland attended with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Freeland was seen taking notes during Pence’s speech, in which he said: “We will modernize NAFTA for the 21st century so that it is a win-win-win for all of our trading partners in North America.”
Hearing Pence use the phase “win-win-win” was significant, Freeland said.
“And he turned out to be right. He’s been a very important, valuable partner for Canada.”
Uncertainty continues to swirl in the U.S. over Trump’s ability to get the new trade pact approved by Congress because of an escalating feud between him and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is now openly criticizing his fitness to serve as president.
On Tuesday night, the White House released a letter Trump sent to Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer expressing his preference for Congress to deal first with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“Once Congress has passed USMCA, we should turn our attention to a bipartisan infrastructure package,” Trump said.
Wednesday, Trump walked out on a meeting with Pelosi and said he wasn’t interested in co-operating with Democrats on infrastructure spending and other projects until Congress abandons its investigations of him.
“I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country,” Pelosi told reporters on Thursday. She said she is praying for her country and the president, and that she is concerned for his well-being.
“Maybe he wants to take a leave of absence,” the veteran Democrat mused.
The White House shot back at the Democrats, blaming them for blocking progress on important spending aimed at repairing crumbling roads and bridges.
Lawmakers are now leaving Capitol Hill and heading into a Memorial Day long weekend before Pence arrives in Ottawa next week.
“We will certainly discuss the domestic ratification path for the new NAFTA here in Canada,” said Freeland. “And I think we’ll be very interested to hear from him how he sees ratification of the new NAFTA in the United States.”