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Paul Martin says Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau handled trade negotiations with the United States and Mexico "as it had to be handled." Paul Martin Jr. has the perspective and experience to weigh in on any number of the issues besetting the nation these days.

But that doesn’t mean he wants to. Though the 80-year-old former prime minister agreed to chat by phone from Montreal on a range of matters, what he most wanted to talk about were the projects his Martin Family Initiative is developing to help bring prosperity to Canada’s Indigenous communities. It’s a fine and worthy subject, and if we could hurry up and get to it, he’d appreciate it.

I want to start with trade.

Why am I surprised?

What’s your reaction to the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement?

Uncertainty was a major issue. And as a result, my reaction was very positive.

What do you think of Canada’s negotiating tactics?

I really think Chrystia Freeland and the Prime Minister handled it as it had to be handled.

They were dealing with what seems to be a really recalcitrant and belligerent administration.

Those are your words, not mine.

How should Canada approach its relationship with the U.S. going forward? I’m thinking particularly of the steel and aluminum tariffs that are still in place.

Those tariffs were a major mistake and should go. I also believe this is a much larger debate involving not simply Canada and the United States, but involving, really, the global trading system. Globally, we’re dealing with a substantial loss of trust in major institutions. That trust has got to be re-established if we’re going to have a global trading system that works.

Trump’s corporate tax cuts have put Canada in a tight spot. How should we respond?

I made it a point, for obvious reasons, not to make public comment. I will tell you, the most worrisome thing coming out of the tax cuts in the United States is what it will do to their debt ratio and deficit in the years to come. It’s going to put the United States in a very difficult situation. And for what? There was no need for stimulus at this point.

Would you comment at all on trade opportunities beyond the U.S.?

There are a lot of opportunities out there. I don’t think any of these opportunities replace the importance of the countries with which we currently trade. I do believe the opening up of Asia is going to continue, and I think there are real opportunities there. That brings me to the G20. One of its goals when it began in 1999 was to bring China to the table. What role should the G20 play now? (1) I think the role of the G20 is increasing. From a trading point of view, large, populous bodies such as India, China and Africa are crucial, because economies are essentially based on consumer purchasing. Take a look at China’s One Belt, One Road. (2) It’s all based on infrastructure. The same rationale can apply to uniting the African continental market: infrastructure and education. The G20 has got to take a longer point of view. It has to work to prevent crises. We waited too long to deal with climate change. In terms of Africa, for heaven’s sake, it’s going to be 25% of the world’s population in 20 to 25 years. Don’t wait 20 to 25 years to face up to the need for better education and infrastructure in Africa. Let’s get to the Indigenous issue. God, I thought you were never […]

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