Canadas premiers have seen the enemy, and it's Donald Trump: Cohn

Premiers rarely get much attention or traction when they meet every year to save the country from itself.This week may be different, because the premiers have seen the enemy — and it is no longer just ourselves. Now there’s Donald Trump.The U.S. president has given the premiers new purpose. The release of his updated NAFTA negotiating agenda Monday is focussing provincial minds on a bigger target south of the border.Meeting in Edmonton on Tuesday and Wednesday, the premiers will have better things to do than bash Ottawa as they customarily do. Reborn and rebranded as the portentous Council of the Federation in 2003, the annual premiers’ conference has long served as a counterweight to Ottawa.But a counterweight can also be deadweight, not heft. These days, the premiers have no real role as a countervailing force against a forceful federal government, for it is the threat of countervailing duties on Canadian softwood lumber, and the spectre of Buy America programs, that weighs heavier on the country.Article Continued BelowNo longer rebels without a cause, the premiers are making common cause in forging and reinforcing links with American governors. Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne showed up at a meeting of U.S. governors in Rhode Island last week, making the case that Ontario is the best or second-best customer for two-thirds of American states.Wynne has been courting her counterparts since becoming premier — among them Indiana’s then-governor, Mike Pence, on his 2014 trip to Toronto. Now Trump’s vice-president, Pence spoke to his erstwhile gubernatorial colleagues at their summit last week with Wynne in attendance, doubtless mindful of the trade links he championed when he led that Indiana trade delegation to Ontario.This week in Edmonton, Wynne will brief her fellow premiers on all those bilateral talks with American governors. Yet the premiers are acutely aware that in the high stakes NAFTA negotiations ahead, they remain bit players limited to lobbying from the sidelines and telephone lines as American decision makers take their seats at the bargaining table.