OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau begins a four-day swing through the United States today, targeting “blue” states and cities that may be sympathetic to his talk about trade and the environment.
Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles voted largely for Hillary Clinton in the last American election and are expected to stay Democratic party strongholds in congressional midterm elections later this year.
His first stop in Chicago today is set to be anything but easy.
Local labour unions are planning a rally outside the University of Chicago ahead of Trudeau’s speech, demanding he follow through on a pledge for stronger labour and environmental provisions in a new North American free trade deal.
The demonstration marks a stark divide that Trudeau is walking into during his four-day swing through the United States, where he is set to push his message to keep the border open to goods and services.
The unions say Illinois has lost 290,000 manufacturing jobs since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, while the Illinois Chamber of Commerce says the state has benefited enormously from free trade.
Canada is the state’s top trading partner, said Todd Maisch, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which promotes local jobs and economic opportunity.
“It’s easy to forget about those things if you’re not reminded,” Maisch said.
Trudeau is expected to remind Americans of the trade deal and its benefits during a question-and-answer session with students at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.
Maisch said Trudeau should talk about the trade deals Canada has signed with Pacific Rim countries, including Mexico, Asia and Europe that don’t include the United States.
“I’ll be honest, I think he’s going to get more attention if he paints a picture of what trade deals amongst these countries look like with America absent. That is a strong picture in my mind,” he said.
Trudeau has ratcheted up his rhetoric on NAFTA lately, telling a recent town hall meeting that he wouldn’t be forced into a deal that was bad for the country. Heading to Democrat areas appears designed to reinforce that message, says Chris Sands, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at John Hopkins University.
“That’s what going to these states and flying the flag for policies that (President Donald) Trump doesn’t like is about. It’s not going to start a trade war. Trump might be slightly irked, but I don’t think it’s going to start a fight,” Sands said.
“It will show Canadians that there are American friends for Canada, that Canada is still being progressive and I think that’s all about (the) 2019 (election).”
In San Francisco, Trudeau will meet Amazon’s top executive, Jeff Bezos, among other tech sector executives.
In Los Angeles, Trudeau will deliver a speech Friday about the merits of free trade to local, state and congressional officials at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Institute.