Justin Trudeau was talking about electric vehicles when he spoke on Wednesday at a discussion hosted by the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ontario. It was a significant speech for several reasons: Trudeau is a prime minister with the most intimate access to the prime minister’s chair than anybody in the country’s recent history, he speaks at odds with Donald Trump’s administration, and his government announced plans to phase out the production of coal-fired electricity. Given all that, his remarks about EVs can’t have come as a surprise.
But what caught the media and political class off guard was his declaration that there was “plenty of room” for Canada and the United States to come together on an issue where they are in complete dissonance. Trudeau cited as an example the work done by the National Infrastructure Bank in the U.S. to finance innovative clean-energy projects across the continent, a project backed by Canadian and U.S. officials.
The prime minister’s comments were met with appreciative applause by those present at the event. But not everyone was convinced. U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive vice president Tom Donohue said, “Not when Canada is going in the wrong direction.” Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm said she thought Trump was right to keep Canada off his NAFTA renegotiating list. And Alberta Conservative interim leader Ric McIver told The Canadian Press the remark shows Trudeau’s “lack of leadership.”
The point raised by the prime minister was that, even though there may be significant problems between Canada and the U.S. right now, there are many common interests. Specifically, he said the countries have a wide variety of clean energy sources, and companies and investors are growing in confidence because of them. Indeed, electric vehicles are a major focus of energy companies in the U.S. and Canada. Batteries and the infrastructure that runs them have long been an area of weakness in North America, and U.S. and Canadian manufacturers have been looking to collaborate.
On the other hand, Canada has made a series of smart decisions over the past few years that underscore the advantages of a robust public policy foundation. That, more than anything else, should open the door to thoughtful policy cooperation between the two countries. For those who insist on furthering Canada’s bad habits, don’t assume there will be any “equally important issues” to share.