Vice President Pence visited Ottawa on Thursday to pitch Canadians on the swift ratification of the new North American trade pact — and try to put a more positive spin on U.S.-Canada ties.
“President Trump and I believe the relationship between the United States and Canada has never been stronger,” Pence told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “And that is a reflection of his leadership, your leadership and the bonds that have been forged through the generations by those who have served in uniform, shoulder to shoulder.”
Pence met with Trudeau, addressed government and business leaders, and talked up the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, during the day-long trip to the Canadian capital.
His focus was on building momentum for the swift passage of the deal through each country’s legislature. Trudeau’s Liberal government introduced legislation Wednesday to ratify the deal, but lawmakers need to move quickly to pass it before Parliament adjourns in June.
In Mexico on Thursday, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador asked lawmakers to hold a special session to approve the agreement. In Washington, the White House planned to file paperwork that would allow Trump to submit it to Congress in 30 days.
Pence expressed optimism that the deal would move ahead this year. He also assured Canadians that the United States would back Canada in a complex diplomatic standoff with China.
Pence’s trip comes at a particularly tough moment in U.S.-Canadian relations. It was striking that it was Pence, not Trump, who was in town to talk up the trade agreement. When Trump visited Quebec last summer for a meeting of the Group of Seven, he ended the trip by tweeting insults at Trudeau from his plane — a move that won him few friends in Ottawa.
Trump was elected on a promise to rework the rules of global trade but surprised many by taking aim at Canada.
During the more-than-year-long effort to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the White House cast its close ally as a threat to the U.S. economy and used national security rules to levy tariffs on its steel and aluminum.
As the talks stalled last summer, Trump called Trudeau “meek” and “dishonest.”
When the United States, Canada and Mexico reached a tentative deal last fall, Canadians expected Trump to lift the steel and aluminum tariffs. But he kept the levies in place until this month, when the countries reached a hard deal.
Canadian authorities arrested Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou in December at the request of the United States. When China lashed out at Canada, some Canadians expressed frustration that Washington wasn’t doing more to help.
Canadians see moving ahead with the USMCA as a necessity and welcome backing on China. But hard feelings remain.
Bruce A. Heyman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Canada from 2014 to 2017 and wrote a book about the relationship, said Canadians are still smarting from Trump’s words and actions.
“You cannot overstate the level of disappointment, frustration and anger,” he said.
Canadian politicians face pressure to stand up to Trump and his team on trade and other issues.
Before Pence’s arrival, reporters had asked Trudeau whether he would bring up abortion with Pence following recent moves by U.S. states to limit access. After the meeting, he said he did.
“I raised the concerns many Canadians have about these new anti-choice laws,” Trudeau said, according to Canadian media. “We are a country, a government that will always defend a woman’s right to choose.”
Pence said the Trump administration “will always stand for the right to life.”
“But those are debates within the United States, and I know that Canada will deal with those issues in a manner that the people of Canada have determined most appropriate,” he said.
Later, Trudeau played up the positive.
“Vice President Pence’s visit was a chance to deepen the partnership between our two countries — a partnership that is essential to our shared security, prosperity, and to millions of middle class jobs,” he said in a statement.
“There is no relationship in the world quite like the Canada-U.S. relationship.”
Kevin Sieff in Mexico City contributed to this report.