By: Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star
OTTAWA—Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will travel to Washington Monday to meet with U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, the first face-to-face meeting between top officials in the Liberal government and the new Trump administration.
Sajjan will be joined by Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff, for the meeting at the Pentagon with Mattis and Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice-chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff.
The two nations’ joint interests in the NATO and NORAD military alliances and the ongoing mission to defeat Daesh extremists will likely top the agenda for their discussion, Sajjan spokesperson Jordan Owens told the Star.
She couldn’t say if Canada’s plans for a military peace mission in Africa — reportedly on hold as Ottawa takes stock of the priorities of the new U.S. administration — would also be discussed.
“It’s certainly one of our government’s priorities so it could come up,” Owens said.
Following the formal meeting, Mattis and Sajjan, both former military officers, are expected to have dinner together.
Work continues behind the scenes for a meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump, a session that White House spokesperson Sean Spicer suggested Friday would happen in Washington, rather than Ottawa.
“I know that they’re looking at a time to come down . . . I think that will be a meeting that is set up very shortly,” Spicer told reporters during a White House briefing.
In a telephone conversation Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked trade and cross-border traffic.
The two politicians “underlined the importance of the Canada-U.S. bilateral relationship, including mutually beneficial trade and economic ties,” according to a statement from Freeland’s office.
They also “highlighted” progress of recent pre-clearance measures, “as well as the need for a safe and secure border that does not impede the smooth flow of goods and people,” the statement said.
Tillerson and Freeland agreed to meet “as soon as possible.”
Just a few weeks into his term, Trump is already having an impact on Canada-U.S. relations on issues such as energy policy, cross-border travel and his vow to quickly renegotiate NAFTA.
In the Commons Friday, Conservative MP Candice Bergen (Portage-Lisgar) pressed the Liberals to abandon their plan for a carbon tax “to adjust to the new reality in the United States.”
“The United States, under the new administration, is cutting taxes, decreasing regulations. They are committed to no carbon tax,” Bergen said in question period.
“Things have changed in Canada, in North America. Is the government able to pivot . . . ?”
Canadian officials spent much of the week scrambling to react to the fallout from Trump’s executive order imposing a 90-day travel ban on residents of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Libya entering the United States. There were concerns that Canadians with dual citizenships from one of the affected nations could also get held up at the U.S. border.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale repeated assurances Friday that dual citizen Canadians should be OK, despite reports that several Canadians holding Nexus trusted-traveller cards had their cards revoked.
In the diplomatic dance of not wanting to upset the Trump administration in these early days, Conservative MP Michele Rempel said the Liberal government has “stumbled in tone” and not been vigorous enough.
“That doesn’t mean that we can’t . . . continue to have a very positive working relationship with one of our biggest allies and trading partners. It simply means that the government needs to be more transparent and more vocal in its effort to protect Canadian interests,” Rempel told reporters.
But Liberal MP Andrew Leslie, the newly appointed parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs with special responsibilities for the Canada-U.S. relationship, counselled patience.
“The whole idea of standing firm on our values, by all means, but working co-operatively with our biggest friend, largest trading partner is perhaps the wisest approach,” Leslie, a retired lieutenant-general in the Canadian Armed Forces, told reporters earlier in the week.
“I think all of us have to stay calm and carry on.”
With files from Daniel Dale