Ottawa aims to charm 70 U.S. lawmakers over 3-day meeting

A dozen Canadian politicians are headed to Washington next week for another series of meetings to stress the importance of the Canada-U.S. relationship.

A mix of MPs from all parties, and several senators have lined up talks with 70 U.S. lawmakers, over three days starting Monday. 

"We've never seen as much interest on the American side in terms of meeting Canadians, and we will talk about quite a number of issues," said Wayne Easter, the co-chair of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group (IPG).

The IPG typically visits Washington every year, but with the unpredictable Trump administration now in power, members are facing added pressure to ensure the relationship runs smoothly.

The meetings also come just days after President Trump's nominee for U.S. Trade Representative was urged to "get tough" with Canada on lingering trade irritants, like softwood lumber.

On Tuesday, at the U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing on Robert Lighthizer's nomination, officials also called for more than just minor changes with Canada on NAFTA. 

Targeted pitches for co-operation

Canadian delegates will be prepared to make targeted pitches to their U.S. counterparts for continued co-operation on trade. 

"We have all the states broken down in terms of how important that trading relationship is, the number of jobs, what Canadian companies operate in the U.S., what we export to them, what they export to us," Easter said.

"The bottom line is nine million American jobs depend on the Canadian trading relationship." 

But Easter does acknowledge there will likely be some friction.

"I think a point of contention that is really festering, is the softwood lumber issue," he said.

"I think the Minister of Global Affairs, Minister of International Trade… are working hard on those issues, and making some gains. But that clearly looks like we will face tariffs in the not-too-distant future."

Trade will be just one of several issues discussed. An emphasis will also be put on defence, the environment and energy.

Challenging 'buy American' 

Canadian officials will also try to chip away support for Trump's "buy American" movement.

Easter describes the concept as a concern, saying delegates will try to show U.S. lawmakers that kind of policy may be harmful for both countries, particularly when it comes to infrastructure projects. 

"If the administration is 100 per cent forceful in buying American, it will affect their economy, because everything as a result of the NAFTA agreement and free trade before it, to a great extent, works on supply chains."

"In order to get the most competitive product… typically some of that product is Canadian. So the impact is not only on Canada that they might not be buying our product, but the impact is on the American economy as well, that it might be a more expensive product." 

"So we need to explain that, explain how supply chain works, and how both our economies can come forward together," Easter added.