CALGARY – Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has yet to meet with members of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on her trip to Washington D.C., but trade and policy experts say the premier still had a successful diplomatic mission given her face time with American governors.

Notley is in Washington D.C. this week telling U.S. lawmakers, think tank directors and political insiders of all stripes that their country’s relationship with Alberta represents $84 billion in two-way trade and even minor changes to that relationship could create unintended problems.

“On any trade relationship, as you pull one thread, you inadvertently end up pulling about 20 more,” Notley said during a press conference Tuesday.

Notley said she had meetings that focused on how Alberta’s oil and gas exports to the U.S. helped support industries south of the border that Trump has attempted to champion.

“The issue of the competitive advantage that comes from having access to our energy and the contribution that it makes for a strong manufacturing sector in the United States, let alone in Canada, is recognized,” she said.

The premier had yet to meet with any members of the Trump administration, which has proposed a border adjustment tax and possible “tweaks” to the North American Free Trade agreement with Canada, but said she hoped to meet with them on Wednesday.

Notley’s trip coincides with the U.S. National Governors Association meeting in Washington, and the premier had met with Montana Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat, and Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, a Republican, on her trip, as well as U.S. senators from Montana.

Carlo Dade, director of the Centre for Trade and Investment Policy at the Canada West Foundation, said the timing of the premier’s mission to the U.S. capital was a “great choice by the folks in the provincial government – to line up a visit for her… when a lot of her peers were going to be there.”

“We’ve got to start showing up at more of these meetings and it’s got to be the premiers,” Dade said, who criticized Notley for being absent at a recent meeting held in Colorado, which was  attended by Mexican state governors but only Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan from Canada.

“She’s talking with governors – her colleagues and her peers, and that’s where we really have influence,” Dade said.

He said it’s more difficult for the premier to “win friends and influence people” in Congress because foreign diplomats have cued up six or seven people deep in each politician’s office since Trump was elected.

However, he said, Canadian premiers have a unique and advantaged relationship with American governors, who can in turn exert some influence on Congress members from their states.

Similarly, University of Calgary assistant professor of political science Melanee Thomas said as premier, Notley is obligated to go to Washington when trade is threatened. “I don’t think this is one of those things that’s optional,” Thomas said.

“Of all the Canadian actors, the premier of Alberta is probably in a better position that other Canadian actors because they’re going to be advocating for oil and gas,” she said.

Thomas said Notley’s mission in Washington is to reiterate to as many policymakers as possible: “Here’s a bunch of safe oil. You like safe oil, right?”

Financial Post

gmorgan@nationalpost.com