GOP senator offers soothing words about ‘special relationship’ with Canada

As U.S. officials heap scorn on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Republican senator is trying to ease international trade tensions by calling attention to an unusual paper mill in Maine that is “truly intertwined” with its cross-border neighbours in New Brunswick.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins says the two countries may have had their differences over the years when it comes to subsidies, but she stressed that Canada remains “a close ally, good friend and one of America’s biggest trading partners.”

In a tweet Sunday, Collins said Maine’s “special relationship” with Canada includes daily cross-border commutes for Canadian nurses who work in Maine.

“In Maine, we have a special relationship with Canada,” she wrote. “Many border communities are truly intertwined … We must preserve this friendship.”

She pointed to the Twin Rivers Paper Co. mill in Madawaska, Maine, which gets the pulp it needs from a pipeline that extends across the border from a mill in Edmundston, N.B.

The privately owned U.S. company also operates a lumber mill in Plaster Rock, N.B., which produces wood chips and biomass for the Edmundston operation.

Cyrille Simard, the mayor of Edmundston, said the town of 16,000 was built on international trade, which is why he’s worried about U.S. President Donald Trump’s increasingly bellicose attitude toward Canada.

“Trade is part of who we are,” Simard said in an interview Monday. “It’s been like that for hundreds of years. The example of the mill is just one example. There’s a lot of businesses in Edmundston that do a lot of work in the United States _ and the same is true on the other side.”

About 300 employees work at the mill in Edmundston, and another 500 work at the mill across the Saint John River in Madawaska, where specialized paper is produced for the pharmaceutical and food industries, he said.

“If something is broken in the chain, there’s a bunch of people and businesses that would be affected,” Simard said. “The overall impact on the economy is spread out across a constellation of small and medium enterprises all over Maine and New Brunswick.”

Simard said Trump’s take-no-prisoners approach to trade is cause for deep concern, especially in border towns like his.

“It’s not the kind of rhetoric we want to see,” he said. “Our economies are intertwined so deeply now. Both sides have to work together.”

Collins’ peacemaking comments on Twitter came as Trump and his advisers hurled abuse at Trudeau following a G7 summit in the Charlevoix region of Quebec.

However, Collins’ tweet was met with a chorus of angry replies that mainly implored her to confront Trump about the issue.

“Susan Collins … without action your words are like vapour,” said one post. “History will judge you and your colleagues harshly.”

“Don’t tell Twitter; tell Trump,” said another.

And there was this blunt assessment: “Denounce our rogue ?POTUS for destroying our relationships with our longtime allies.”

Collins couldn’t be reached for comment Monday, and a spokesman for Twin Rivers did not respond to a request for an interview.

Meanwhile, Collins wasn’t the only Republican senator to speak out after Trump posted a tweet from Air Force 1 on Saturday describing Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak.”

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake also took to Twitter on Sunday, saying: “Fellow Republicans, this is not who we are. This cannot be our party.” The tweet was linked to an article that quoted two of Trump’s advisers lashing out at Trudeau.

“He really kind of stabbed us in the back,” said Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser.

Later in the day, trade adviser Peter Navarro said: “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.”

Last June, Twin Rivers Paper told the Trump administration that its April 2017 decision to impose stiff import duties on Canadian softwood put thousands of jobs in Maine in jeopardy. The three other Atlantic provinces were later granted an exemption, but not New Brunswick.

The company has said its mills support about 5,800 direct and indirect jobs in Maine and New Brunswick.

Trump infuriated his G7 allies recently by slapping them with the hefty tariffs on steel and aluminum _ a move that prompted Canada and the European Union to threaten duties of their own.