Canada PM looks to former PM from rival party for Trump guidance

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gestures after receiving the rank of Commander in the French Legion of Honour during a ceremony at the French embassy in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has turned to a Conservative predecessor, also known as father of free trade, to help smooth ties with U.S. President Donald Trump and to protect exports, Canada's trade minister said on Wednesday.

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney will advise a cabinet committee in Ottawa this week, sharing his perspective on the looming renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Mexico, Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told reporters.

"We all know that he's close to President Trump," he said. "So obviously, you know, any insight that we can get is welcome. You know, this is a whole-of-Canada effort."

Champagne added that the Canadian government would be leading the negotiations under Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, but it was "the smart thing to do" to listen to Mulroney, given his experience and relationship with Trump.

The prime minister's office said in March that Trudeau had spoken with Mulroney on several occasions and looked forward to continuing to work with him.

"We are drawing upon advice from different Canadians who have offered their assistance, and we are pleased the former Prime Minister has been able to serve as a helpful bridge to Republicans, including the President, underscoring the unique relationship between our two countries," press secretary Cameron Ahmad said in an email.

Mulroney's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A source who knows the former prime minister said Mulroney has a strong interest in helping on the trade front because he negotiated the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA in the 1990s, he knows the file well, and has a strong conviction in the benefits of free trade.

"It's his baby," said the source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

He said Mulroney, who has sat on numerous corporate boards and business enterprises since his departure from politics, is helping Trudeau deal with Trump for free, because he has the contacts within the Trump administration and has known Trump for many years in the business world.

Trump had vowed to tear up NAFTA, saying the agreement had cost U.S. jobs, but said after a meeting with Trudeau in February that the United States would only be "tweaking" its trade relationship with Canada, because Mexico was the real concern. [L1N1FY0SP]

Trudeau's late father, former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, was a bitter rival of Mulroney when the two men were battling to lead the nation in the 1980s.

(Reporting by Andrea Hopkins and David Ljunggren; Editing by Richard Chang)