As Donald Trump’s inauguration draws near, the U.S President-elect continues to add to his controversial list of cabinet picks. His latest selection came earlier this week with the announcement of Robert Lighthizer, a former member of the Reagan Administration, for U.S. trade representative.
But before any of Trump’s choices can become official, Senate approval is required for all the positions, with the exception of national security adviser and White House posts. The nominees cannot be confirmed until the president-elect is inaugurated Jan. 20, although hearings often commence sooner to expedite the process.
The president-elect’s cabinet choices are not only significant to the U.S.; cabinet members have influence over policy and regulations that will have an impact north of the border as well. From a former energy company CEO, to a billionaire investor, below is a breakdown of five key Trump cabinet picks and what they could mean for Canada.
U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE
What you need to know: Lighthizer served as deputy U.S. trade representative during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s and has since spent nearly three decades as a lawyer representing U.S. companies in anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. A harsh critic of China's trade practices, Lighthizer in 2010 told Congress that U.S. policymakers should take a more aggressive approach in dealing with China. In announcing his choice for trade representative, Trump said that Lighthizer would help "fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first." The trade representative is generally responsible for developing and recommending trade policy to the U.S. president and conducting trade negotiations.
What it could mean for Canada: With Lighthizer on Trump's team, Canada might face hurdles when it comes the ongoing softwood lumber dispute, Mark Warner, principal of MAAW Law, told BNN in an interview earlier this week.
"He has traditionally been on the trade defence side for the steel industry and has represented a lot of cases on softwood lumber. What you’re dealing with here is someone who may have views that are on the protectionist side, but will be informed within the bounds of trade lawyers. He was there for the negotiation of U.S.-Canada free trade agreement, so I think whatever may happen with NAFTA, and if there is to be a trade war with Mexico, theoretically I think it’s possible Canada could revert back to our prior deal," he said.
"It seems to me that the lumber producers on the United States side are going to feel really comfortable with the team that’s there. I think that in some sense Canadian producers may come to regret not signing a deal before Trump won the election," Warner added.
SECRETARY OF STATE
What you need to know: Tillerson, 64, is the former CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp, a company that he joined in 1975. During his time as Exonn’s boss, a position he took in 2006, Tillerson maintained close ties with Moscow and opposed U.S. sanctions against Russia for the annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. The Texas native was backed by several notable Republican figures including former Secretary of State James Baker, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, according to an official on Trump's transition team. Tillerson’s confirmation hearing is set to begin next week.
What it could mean for Canada: “This will of course be good for the energy industry and our Keystone [XL pipeline] and things like that – I think that will be positive. But ultimately, I think the relationship between the U.S. and Russia is going to strengthen just as we all have anticipated,” Som Seif, CEO at Purpose Investments, told BNN in an interview last month.
“There are a lot of questions about his attitudes and views on Russia – because Exxon Mobil has a footprint there. So I think that’s the biggest question raised about him,” Joseph McMonigle, a senior energy analyst at Potomac Research Group, told BNN in an interview Friday.
Billioniare investor Wilbur Ross, 79, heads the private equity firm W.L. Ross & Co, and Forbes has pegged his net worth at nearly US$3 billion. Ross served as an economic advisor to Trump during the presidential election campaign. He, along with Trump, blames massive U.S. factory job losses on the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, which came into effect in 1994. The Commerce Secretary is responsible for fostering, promoting, and developing foreign and domestic commerce.
What it could mean for Canada: Ross appeared on BNN multiple times ahead of the Nov. 8 election, and said Canada "doesn't have a lot to fear" when it comes to Trump's trade policies. Ross said Trump's concerns have mostly been with Mexico.
“You don’t hear him voice huge complaints about Canada and there’s a good reason for that. In the case of trade between the U.S. and Canada, it is relatively much better-balanced than the trade between the U.S. and Mexico, for example,” Ross said.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, 48, is a denier of climate change and is Trump's pick to head the Environment Protection Agency, a role that involves enforcing a number of environmental statutes and regulations. The pick received backlash from environmental activists, with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune likening the selection of Pruitt as EPA administrator to "putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires." However, Pruitt's views align with the president-elect's promise to cut the agency back and eliminate regulation that he says is stifling oil and gas drilling. Pruitt became the top state prosecutor for Oklahoma, which has extensive oil reserves, in 2011 and has challenged the EPA multiple times since, accusing it of having an "activist agenda."
What it could mean for Canada: “The incoming Trump administration has signalled it is serious about oil and gas development and is prepared to act accordingly with energy-friendly policies,” Mark Scholz, president of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, told BNN in a statement. “Canada risks losing energy investment and jobs to the United States should it continue with its current anti-oil policies. Here in Alberta, we have seen an increase in business and personal income taxes which will soon drive investment and talent to the U.S.; moreover, the introduction of a carbon tax will further erode Alberta’s once competitive and business friendly advantage.”
Perry, 66, adds to the list of oil drilling advocates that are skeptical of climate change. The selections have worried environmentalists but cheered an oil and gas industry eager for expansion. Perry, who ran unsuccessfully for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination and briefly ran for president in 2016, would be responsible for U.S. energy policy and would oversee the nation’s nuclear-weapons labs and the safeguards program.
What it could mean for Canada: “It means you’ve got a fairly oil, gas and energy literate cabinet down in D.C. – and that’s got to be good for Canada," Robert Skinner said in an interview with BNN last month when speaking about the selection of Tillerson and Perry. However, Skinner noteD that both Perry and Tillerson will likely "attract a lot of opposition” and “a lot of criticism.”
-- With files from Reuters