Linamar CEO on sitting down with Trudeau and Trump
President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau host a meeting with women business leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Ryan Flanagan, CTV Kitchener
Published Tuesday, February 14, 2017 6:05PM EST
When the political leaders of Canada and the United States met with female business leaders from both countries in Washington on Monday, Linda Hasenfratz had one of the best seats in the house.
The CEO of auto parts manufacturer Linamar was seated next to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and two seats down from Ivanka Trump – the daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump.
“It meant a lot to me to be part of that experience,” Hasenfratz said in an interview.
Set up as part of Trudeau’s visit to Washington, D.C., the meeting was the first gathering of the Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders – a joint initiative between the two countries to help eliminate systemic obstacles to female participation and leadership in the two countries’ economies.
“It’s a signal that the two countries want to work together to enable women entrepreneurs and women businesses to survive,” Hasenfratz said.
Wilfrid Laurier University political science professor Barry Kay calls the council’s creation a “genius” move on the part of the Trudeau government – even if he’s not sure it will have a lasting impact – because it signalled a willingness to work together and to understand the political situation in the United States.
“They were able to worm their way into Trump’s heart by working through his daughter, who he cares very much about,” he said Tuesday.
Overall, Kay said Trudeau’s visit to Washington went “very well,” particularly considering what he described as Trump’s tendencies to come across as a “bull in a china shop.”
“Trump is just so unpredictable, and people (were) afraid that somehow Trudeau might fall into some kind of spat (with him),” he said.
Of the five Canadians on the council, Hasenfratz is the only one who works in the auto sector and the only one who works in a non-Toronto part of southern Ontario.
The auto sector is a major driver of the economy in this part of the province, and some analysts have questioned whether it could find itself under assault from protectionist trade policies south of the border.
Hasenfratz said her trip to Washington left her feeling optimistic that the Canadian auto industry would not find itself severely threatened by the Trump administration.
“We talked about the importance of having a strong economy, especially one where we’re so integrated from a trade perspective,” she said.
“That point was certainly made.”
Free movement of goods in the auto sector dates back to 1965 – long before either NAFTA or the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement were signed.
Any action to change that would increase manufacturing costs and likely result in higher prices for consumers, Hasenfratz said.
“The companies can’t afford to absorb that cost, so it falls to the shoulders of the consumer,” she said.
While Hasenfratz says she’s optimistic about the auto sector’s fortunes because of Canadian officials’ ability to make strong, fact-based arguments about the importance of the two countries’ integrated economies, Kay says he’s optimistic for a different reason – because political realities south of the border mean the Trump administration can’t ignore auto-heavy states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.
With reporting by Nadia Matos