January 17, 2017 / 6:55 PM / 7 months ago

Canada PM, facing Trump challenge, to promote ex-army commander

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, January 10, 2017.Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will shuffle his team in preparation for the Trump administration, promoting a former army commander who knows top U.S. military officials, two sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

Chief whip Andrew Leslie, who helps oversee members of the ruling Liberal Party in the House of Commons, will be made parliamentary secretary to new Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland - Trudeau's point person on the U.S. file.

"He has extensive military experience and has worked a great deal with senior U.S. commanders," said one source, requesting anonymity because the news had not yet been made official.

Good security relations with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is Trudeau's top priority.

Canada sends 75 percent of its exports to the United States and could suffer badly if Trump follows through on promises to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement or impose an import tax.

A second source said Leslie would also be made a member of the special cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations.

Leslie, who has the rank of lieutenant general, headed the Canadian army from 2006 to 2010.

The Globe and Mail, which first reported the appointment, said Leslie knew Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, a former army lieutenant-general, and retired Marine General James Mattis, the nominee for U.S. secretary of defense.

Trudeau last week announced Freeland as foreign minister, with additional responsibility for NAFTA and ties with the United States. Freeland, a former business reporter with years of U.S. experience, has good connections in Washington.

Canadian diplomats and Trudeau aides have been trying to persuade the incoming Trump team that both nations would suffer from major changes to the trading relationship.

"There are millions of Canadian jobs that depend on the U.S. market, but there are also millions of American jobs that depend on smooth integration and flow back and forth across the border of goods and services," said Trudeau.

"We are very confident... we are going to be able to find common ground to ensure that both of our economies prosper," he told a televised news conference in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

As part of the planned shuffle, Trudeau will name Deputy Chief of Staff Jeremy Broadhurst - one of his closest aides - to be Freeland's new chief of staff, said one of the sources.

Before running for election, Freeland worked for Reuters, a unit of Thomson Reuters.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alan Crosby and Dan Grebler

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