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Ex-general and Liberal U.S. point man urges ‘calm’ in dealing with Trump

Liberals urge 'calm' in dealing with Trump

OTTAWA — One of the Trudeau government’s top guns on dealing with Donald Trump â€” retired general Andrew Leslie â€” evoked the calm, stiff-upper-lip British approach in dealing with the unpredictable new U.S. president..

“All of us have to stay calm and carry on. We will make sure that we take care of our interests â€” security, trade, a whole host of others â€” while defending our values,” said Leslie, who was appointed earlier this month as parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister.

He said former U.S. president Barack Obama issued more executive orders in his first days in power than Trump â€” a piece of U.S. presidential trivia drawn from his briefing book in an apparent attempt to offer reassurance.

“Now that I am getting much better briefed on the issue, president Obama actually issued more executive orders and memorandums in his first week than President Trump,” he said on Tuesday, offering no other details.

Leslie commanded the Canadian army during the bloodiest combat phase of the war in Afghanistan and that war experience helped spur Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to raise him to his current position to boost ties with the new U.S. administration, which includes a number of former military commanders.

They include two retired marine generals in key jobs, James Mattis at defence and John Kelly in homeland security. Trump’s national security adviser is retired army general Michael Flynn.

Leslie said those ties helped Canada get quick answers on Saturday from Washington after Trump’s executive order barring citizens of seven countries, including Syria, from entering the United States caused widespread uncertainty.

“The government has been working very carefully, very quietly, with a variety of advisers in the White House … I think that proved its value over the weekend,” Leslie said.

He stressed that working constructively with the new administration is “the wisest approach” in defending Canada’s interests â€” not publicly disagreeing with Trump.

That approach was essentially endorsed by business leaders who met Leslie last week. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said the meeting included business leaders from 20 associations representing hundreds of thousands of businesses.

“There’s a lot of alignment in the business sectors about continuing to nurture that relationship with the U.S. and for those in the U.S. who might not realize how important it is, to re-educate and remind them,” Derek Nighbor, the head of the Forest Products Association of Canada, said in an interview.

But many in the business community are also worried about what lies ahead.

“Everybody is taken aback by the degree to which the president has continued his style from the campaign,” John Manley, president of the Business Council of Canada, said in an interview.

Business people are accustomed to dealing with risk, but uncertainty is something that “they really don’t like.”

“Right now we’ve got a lot of uncertainties. It’s a worrying time,” he added.

Newly appointed International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said closed borders are “not the Canadian way” and that the assurances Canada received that dual nationals would not be barred from the U.S. are key to maintaining strong trade links.

“We have about 400,000 people crossing the border every day,” he said. “So obviously, free flow of people between our countries is essential. I’m grateful we could clarify that very quickly.”

With Trump wanting to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement â€” or possibly scrap it â€” Trudeau’s office said Tuesday the prime minister had a phone conversation on Monday with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in which they discussed trade, job creation and competitiveness across the continent.

The call came after Pena Nieto abruptly cancelled a planned visit to Washington this week following Trump’s insistence that Mexico will pay for his proposed border wall.

The statement from Trudeau’s office called North America “one of the most successful economic regions in the world.”

It said Trudeau and Pena Nieto look forward to continuing their “regular discussions” on those matters.

Pena Nieto also expressed his condolences over the weekend attack on a mosque in Quebec City that killed six men and injured 19, saying Mexico stood in solidarity with Canadians, Trudeau’s office said.

Mike Blanchfield and Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press