Verbatim: The Elephant and the Moose 

Justin Trudeau

On July 14, Justin Trudeau took his case for free trade directly to American governors—the first time in its history of more than a century that the National Governors Association has heard from a Canadian prime minister. Trudeau wasn’t in Providence to make news beyond driving home the point that he and his cabinet have been making on Capitol Hill and in state capitols for months; that Canada is far and away the United States’ biggest trading partner, and that the NAFTA renegotiation should be, as Vice President Mike Pence put it, win-win-win.

It is my sincere privilege to be here with you today, to talk about some of the values we have in common, and some of the solutions to the challenges we all face.

I have to say I am flattered, and also a little bit surprised, that so many of you in the audience have chosen to be here now rather off at the beach catching that perfect wave. Maybe that’s on the agenda for the weekend.

Or maybe you’ll go searching for the truth in a walk around the lake, to paraphrase the great poet Wallace Stevens.

Now, I have to tell you, Wallace Stevens is probably my favourite poet. By day, he worked in insurance up the road in Hartford, Connecticut, and by night he wrote some of the most spectacular poetry this country—and indeed, this world—has ever seen.

As I get to know this beautiful, historic corner of America a little better—the neatly tended fields and low stone walls, the apple orchards and spectacular ocean vistas—I’ve been thinking about Wallace Stevens.

In his poem Theory, he declares, “I am what is around me.” And it makes me think of the concept of home—what it means, and how we define it.

Of course, home begins with family. And it extends out from there—to school and places of worship, workplace, community, town, city, state and country.

But there’s an aspect of home that goes beyond our national borders—at least beyond the Canada-U.S. border, which is unlike any other. That is the idea, and the reality, of our common North American home.

This is the level where Newfoundlanders took in thousands of stranded American air travellers after 9/11—as chronicled in the award-winning Broadway musical, Come From Away. It is the level where, 100 years ago, New Englanders rushed to help their Nova Scotia cousins, after the Halifax explosion of 1917.

It’s the level at which, when the Plymouth-to-Newport sailing race got hit with hurricane-force winds, just a few weeks ago, Canadian Armed Forces personnel, ships and planes went immediately into rescue mode.

That’s what friends and neighbours do. We’re there for each other. We step up.

The Canada-U.S. border is sometimes referred to as “the longest undefended border in the world.” That’s actually wrong: Our shared border is very well defended. We defend it together, against common threats.

From NORAD, the only joint-command relationship in the world, to NATO, to counter-terrorism and to basic street-level policing, Canadians and Americans work shoulder-to shoulder, keeping each other safe. As long as any of us here can remember, and further back than that, we have done this.

And that is the context in which I’d like to say a few words today about Canada’s outreach to the United States this year—which has been variously described by analysts and pundits as un-Canadian; exceptionally Canadian; unprecedented; highly predictable; and, perhaps most colourfully, a doughnut.

My friends, I’m here to tell you that our continuing conversation with all of you is none of those things. Not at all. On the contrary, it is solid, through-and-through.

It extends to all levels of governance and society. From my continuing, constructive dialogues with President Trump and Vice-President Pence; to chats between federal ministers and cabinet secretaries; to meetings between state governors and provincial premiers (including the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, who is here today) to conversations between municipal leaders, to business and non-governmental organizations, to the thousands of personal and business ties that form the bedrock of our national bond.

During my time in politics, I’ve noticed this: Pundits—and I say this with the greatest of respect for our media friends—really seem to enjoy the word “strategy.”

If you have a plan it’s just a plan. Anyone can have a plan. But if you call it a strategy, suddenly journalists are leafing through Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and making oblique references to chess.

This has the effect of making the obvious seem complex. It makes for an interesting story. But our strategy—our plan—is actually extremely straightforward.

Canada is a confident, creative, resourceful and resource-rich nation. We are a wealthy and influential country, by world standards. But we are also a country of 35 million, living next door to one roughly ten times our size—and the world’s only superpower.

My father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, once compared this to sleeping next to an elephant. But while you, my American friends, may be an elephant, Canada is no mouse. More like a moose—strong and peaceable, but still massively outweighed.

And so, we need to work harder to make our points, to advocate for the interests of Canadian families in a way that will connect down here. That applies across the range of our national interests—from the fight against climate change, to job creation, to our common defence.

Because, let’s face it, this is another truth about good neighbours: Sometimes we take each other for granted. Sometimes the very dependability and ease of a relationship can lead to us paying it too little attention. When that happens, the principals invariably live to regret it.

My friends, we in Canada decided we would not allow that to happen to our relationship with the United States of America. And I want to say that again for the folks back at home, because it’s important.

When I talk about the importance of maintaining this relationship, I talk about it as a collective. I say “we” because this sentiment extends throughout the cabinet and caucus I lead, but it is actually bigger than our government or party. There is a high degree of support for this across Canadian society.

As I was saying: the Canada-U.S. relationship is far too important for us to assume that Americans are as focused on it as we are. Focused on just how interlinked our economies have become. And just how crucial this is to prosperity and security on both sides of the border—especially for the middle class, and those working hard to join it.

Given the imminent modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which we welcome by the way, we felt compelled to tell you Canada’s story, specifically as it relates to the United States.

It’s a great story. And not just for the nine million American workers whose jobs depend directly on trade and investment with Canada. But for all Americans.

Now, some of you may have heard that last number before—along with the fact that two thirds of American states have Canada as their top export market.

This may have something to do with us repeating those numbers to U.S. audiences every chance we get.

The export number is true, by the way, for a majority of the states represented here today, including: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

To boil this down to one point: Canada is your biggest, best customer—by far. We’re a bigger customer than China by roughly $152 billion. Bigger than Japan or the UK. No one else comes close. In fact, Canada buys more from the U.S. than China, Japan, and the UK combined.

We have been consistent this year—some might say, relentless—in sharing that message, beginning in my regular dialogues with President Trump and fanning out from there.

Let me tell you why.

This is the most successful economic partnership in the history of the world. It’s worth about a trillion dollars each year, and most importantly, it’s balanced. More broadly, the North American Free Trade zone is the biggest economic zone in the world, comprising a $19-trillion regional market of 470 million consumers.

The United States, Canada, and Mexico together now account for more than a quarter of the world’s GDP. Since the trilateral agreement went into effect in 1994, U.S. trade with your NAFTA partners has tripled.

That accounts for millions of well-paying middle-class jobs for Canadians, and Americans. Free trade has worked. It is working now. And those ties have grown well beyond direct trade.

Canadians pay more than $500-million annually in property tax, in Florida alone. And another 25,000 homes in Arizona are Canadian-owned. Something to do with the weather, I suspect.

But NAFTA isn’t perfect. No such agreement ever is. We think it should be updated and modernized, as it has been a dozen times over the past quarter century. And I have every expectation it will be—to the ultimate benefit of working people in all three partner countries.

And I have to add this: We have been gratified by the serious, respectful response our outreach has met at all levels of American government. We thank our counterparts in the Trump administration for that, and we thank all of you.

The relationship between our countries is historic. It is a model to the world. It is of critical importance for people on both sides of the border that we maintain it, and indeed, improve it. We must get this right.

Sometimes getting it right means refusing to take the politically-tempting shortcuts.

More trade barriers, more local-content provisions, more preferential access for home-grown players in government procurement, for example, does not help working families over the long term, or even the mid-term.

Such policies kill growth. And that hurts the very workers these measures are nominally intended to protect. Once we travel down that road, it can quickly become a cycle of tit-for-tat, a race to the bottom, where all sides lose.

My friends, Canada doesn’t want to go there.

If anything, we’d like a thinner border for trade, not a thicker one.

Now, there are some really great arguments to be made for keeping our border thin when it comes to trade, even as we improve cross-border law enforcement that makes Canadians and Americans safer.

We will continue to say to our friends and partners in Michigan and Ohio, for example: Consider cases like that of Magna International—a global automotive parts supplier headquartered in Ontario.

Founded in 1957, Magna today employs nearly 140,000 workers in 29 countries. Half those workers are in North America. Magna has 65 facilities in the United States, 60 in Canada, 29 in Mexico.

Here’s the point: Magna’s supply chains span the border. To a car part, the border is invisible. Canadian components are repeatedly incorporated into more complex products before final assembly.

A hydroformed upper crossmember starts in Strathroy, Ontario. It’s imported into Michigan for assembly into a carrier and then incorporated into a full front-end module in Ohio. Magna then sends the front-end modules to Chrysler for final assembly. And Chrysler exports the finished Jeeps around the world.

Or take Canam Group, the parent company of Canam Steel. Canam is headquartered in Quebec. It employs roughly equal numbers of Canadians and Americans. Its plants in Point of Rock, Maryland and Claremont, New Hampshire provide jobs that are vital to their communities. Canam’s market is the construction industry—which is a North America-wide industry, by the way.

There are, literally, too many examples of this to name.

Whether it’s CN in Louisiana, or Hydro-Quebec in Maine, or Cott Corporation in Missouri, or countless other enterprises and projects across the States, Canadian energy, ingenuity and capital are there, helping you build America—just as American energy, ingenuity and capital are in Canada, helping us build our country.

And this, ultimately, is why I have such confidence in our shared future. And in the best efforts of every leader in this room, and in Washington, to nurture this relationship, to make it even better: We really are in this together.

I’m guessing that’s because, as governors, you face common problems, and share many of the same goals. I have no doubt you’re focused on creating the conditions for good, well-paying jobs for the middle class in your states.

Whether Republican or Democrat, in this economy, that’s probably your first priority. Well, guess what? It’s my first priority as well. President Trump has told me it’s also his. We all have this in common.

This challenge—how to ensure the benefits of commerce and trade are more broadly shared, so that every family can look forward to a brighter future—is among the most fundamental of our time.

My friends, I believe to my core that the most important challenge we face, as elected leaders, is that of creating lasting conditions for prosperity and security for all our people—in this, our shared North American home.

By virtue of our geography, by virtue of our interlinked economies, this is work we are called to do together—within a modernized, renewed and strengthened North American Free Trade Agreement.

So, I will leave you with this: Let us meet this challenge. Let us keep talking, as neighbours and friends should. Let us roll up our sleeves. Let’s get to work. And let’s keep making history, together.

As delivered to the National Governors Association meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, July 14, 2017.