Bowmanville: My first priority will be to free Canadians and work to eliminate the risk to Canada’s billions of exports to China, says Erin O’Toole, Shadow Foreign Minister… that is, if Conservatives win the coming elections and he is appointed the Foreign Minister.
He also said he would work to mend relations with India and the “difficult” Trump presidency to further Canada’s interests.
In this second and concluding part of the interview with Durham Post, the regional member of Parliament O’Toole agrees his work may be cut out for him – but that he is up to it.
Eudore: If there is a possible change in government in Ottawa, what would be your first priority?
Erin: If I became the foreign minister and not the shadow one? (laughs) My top priority, if it was to happen on October 21st, would be the situation with China. In particular, to citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and the billions in exports that we have at risk with China right now. We need to reset dialogue and resolve that.
Almost as closely following that, would be improving relations with the U.S. The Trump presidency obviously is a difficult one, but the Trudeau government …has made the situation worse. Very closely following that one, would be India. The Prime Minister had a disastrous state visit to India. They imposed tariffs on some agricultural products afterwards.
The growth of the Indian economy is something that Canada should be participating more in, both on a goods and services trade basis. Particularly, as the Indian economy starts to open up a little bit more – it’s notoriously a bit of a closed economy. There were real strides under the Conservative government, we really improved the relationship with India, grew trade, were really developing.
So those would be three quick ones.
I’ve said to people I’ve never seen a situation where Canada has frayed diplomatic relations with so many countries. We’ve mentioned three, I can add to this Saudi Arabia, we’ve lost billions there; the Philippines which is not speaking to us but they’re sending boatloads of garbage back to Canada… our relations with Japan have declined… Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Italy… the list is long and I can show you my blog on the subject. Even a liberal former foreign minister, John Manley, said on a television program “Canada has never been so alone”. It’s true.
So those three countries, particularly China because of the state of our citizens… would be the first three I would start to try and reconnect with. Not just using me, but also our professional diplomatic corps.
Eudore: Do you think China is a solvable issue?
Erin: Yes. Every country advances their interest in foreign policy. You have to work hard sometimes to find mutual areas of interest, but that can be done. Particularly, for countries with large trade relationships, large exchange of peoples and ideas. The first leader we’ve had who has not put the national interest first, is Justin Trudeau.
And the India trip…sort of epitomizes that, where he brought members of his caucus, he went to elaborate events and choreographed dancing. He did that more for his domestic audience here, than he did to reach a relationship with Indian officials and businesses. It was mocked even in the newspapers in India and the Washington Post called it a “slow-moving train wreck”. That was because it was all about photographs of him and his family and his colleagues, and not really about sitting down with the various state administrators, Modi government, businesses.
We have a good story to tell with India, we’re members of Commonwealth of Nations. We have good relationships. And as that important country grows, we should do more with them. We can find similar interests with all countries. Even difficult ones that don’t share our values like Saudi Arabia, or Cuba, or China. You find areas of mutual interest, and then you can work on human rights and a range of other issues.
Eudore: Is NAFTA dead?
Erin: NAFTA has been significantly degraded by the Trudeau government. It is not dead, but it suffered a bad illness all in all. We need to reassert our interest in Washington…we really need to re-engage the Americans to let them see how unique and truly special the Canadian relationship is. We are not only, consistently over time, the largest trade partner of the United States, we are the only country in the world with a domestic Homeland Security partnership through NORAD.
No other country has it, not the UK, not Mexico. We need to leverage that along with shared history, family ties and culture. We need to leverage that… Once again, going back to Justin Trudeau’s main failings, in the NAFTA agreement, when everyone knew Donald Trump had a lot of concerns about Mexico… and everyone knew that the auto industry was critical to trade in North America, the Liberals didn’t mention auto as a priority for trade and NAFTA. They mentioned gender, indigenous reconciliation, climate change, a number of things that aren’t really trade-related but are related to Justin Trudeau’s image. And, this is where we run into problems.
Eudore: Trump also has to face a re-election. We don’t really know what kind of government would be there, would Trump come back, or not, it’s so volatile out there…
Erin: It is.
Eudore: Would it be easy to deal with, if say, a conservative government comes in here and Trump also comes back. Will it be easy to deal with them?
Erin: I’ve always said it would not be simple to deal with Donald Trump. But you know that going in. Which is why I’ve been very upset with the Trudeau government’s, I call it, virtue signaling. They signal their virtues: “I’m a feminist” – which he’s proven through the SNC Lavalin scandal that he is not. Putting in things like indigenous reconciliation, which is important, but the indigenous peoples of the United States and Mexico are legally and constitutionally treated and handled far differently than Canada… He put it out there to contrast himself with Donald Trump…“look how progressive I am as opposed to this guy”. He’s not there to do that. He’s there to get a good deal for our people, our workers, our industries.
I think dealing with Trump would be difficult but you go in and be strategic. I told Minister Freeland to use ballistic missile defense with the United States… you use that as a reminder to the Trump presidency that only Canada is a security partner through NORAD. It was a Canadian on duty on 9/11 in the U.S. in Colorado. Use an issue like that to build some mutual understanding and then get us exempted from steel tariffs.
You have to build that trust somehow… So, I think we would have much better relations, but I would never say to people that it would be simple to deal with Donald Trump.
Eudore: I think you may have a tough job going in.
Erin: I think we’re up to it.
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