OTTAWA — For now, he's going to Washington to meet President Donald Trump, but Canadian business leaders say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should be talking to Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi to push the continent's new trade pact towards ratification.
Trudeau's Thursday trip to Washington is being billed as part of a concerted push to win ratification of the new North American trade deal in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
Legislation to do just that is slowly wending through the House of Commons, and Mexico's Senate is poised to give its final legislative approval early next week. But similar legislation has yet to be introduced in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.
The Democrats would like to deny Trump a victory on the trade front, but they also have specific concerns about the labour and environment provisions of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
With the U.S. Congress set to rise at the end of July, Trump's hopes to have the House and Senate ratify USMCA this summer — as Vice-President Mike Pence promised Trudeau last month in Ottawa — are dwindling.
Brian Kingston, vice-president of international issues for the Business Council of Canada, says that's why Trudeau should add Pelosi to his agenda.
"I think it would be important, if there's an opportunity, to have a discussion with the House leader. That could be beneficial primarily because, right now, the ball is fully in her court," Kingston said in an interview Friday.
Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, says that's a good idea, but only if Trump asks Trudeau to speak to Democratic lawmakers.
"If they feel it would be helpful for the prime minister to speak to members of Congress, including Nancy Pelosi, then I would think he'd be very open to doing that," Beatty said Friday in an interview.
"Should we insert ourselves in the process without a request from the U.S. administration? My inclination would be to ask the administration what they think would be most helpful."
Flavio Volpe, president the Canadian Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, said the meeting of the two leaders is probably most significant for its context rather than content.
"The Canadian prime minister publicly appearing on the same side as the American president could give Democrats some cover for supporting the new USMCA."
The Prime Minister's Office would only say that it would keep the media informed of Trudeau's itinerary.
Trudeau and Trump will meet on Thursday in Washington where the new continental trade deal, as well as their shared concerns about China, will be major topics of discussion.
Business groups in all three countries are pushing for a timely ratification of the new pact because they say the uncertainty created by the long, tempestuous renegotiation of NAFTA and the ratification delays are harmful to long-term investment plans.
Canadian MPs are to adjourn by next Friday for their summer recess, their last planned sitting days before the October federal election, but they could be recalled in the summer to deal with ratification.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland sidestepped questions on her trip to Washington this week about how Canada would proceed "in tandem" with the U.S. if its lawmakers on Capitol Hill don't ratify the deal before their summer recess.
In Canada, the Business Council, an association of top corporate executives, and the Chamber of Commerce, which represents 200,000 Canadian businesses across all sectors, have differing views on how urgent it is for the Trudeau government to ratify the new deal.
"Their strategy of following the U.S. process makes sense, however there will be a point where we should ratify this agreement before the election," said Kingston.
"Our biggest concern right now is if the president does not feel the Democrats are moving quickly enough, he will withdraw from NAFTA. . . . That would be absolutely disastrous for the Canadian economy."
NAFTA, which remains in force, allows any country to withdraw on six-month's notice. If Trump did that, it would be the "ultimate pressure tactic" to push Congress, said Kingston.
Beatty said an earlier ratification is certainly a better option, but if the U.S. leaves it hanging, it is not imperative for the Liberal government to ratify before the federal election.
"It would be preferable, but I don't think it's essential. Both the Liberals and Conservatives are in favour of ratification. I would anticipate whether it's before or after the federal election, there's no serious impediment to ratification in Canada."