Canadian senator calls LePage a ‘conduit’ to Trump in NAFTA talks

Good morning from Augusta, where New England’s governors and eastern Canadian premiers are set to meet today in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, at a sensitive time for the endangered North American Free Trade Agreement.

Officials in the Canadian government — and particularly in New Brunswick — see Gov. Paul LePage as a key intermediary between them and President Donald Trump, who warned last week that the U.S. may terminate the trade deal. Renegotiations on it started last week.

LePage’s role was highlighted in an article last week in the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, New Brunswick. Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s progressive foreign affairs minister, has said she talks to the governor often, calling him “an influential voice in this administration.”

The governor has a personal history in New Brunswick. He managed a forestry business owned by his ex-wife’s family there in the 1970s and two of his daughters still live there.

There’s a practical reason for all of the praise from Canada: Maine and New Brunswick have a close trade relationship, but the Trump administration placed new tariffs on softwood imports from most of Canada earlier this year.

J.D. Irving Ltd., a Canadian behemoth that owns softwood mills in both Canada and Maine, won a lower rate for operations in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with support from Maine’s U.S. senators, but the larger tariff remains for other operators. LePage sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross earlier this month arguing that Maine has already lost jobs because of the tariffs.

It’s unclear whether the governor or others wield enough influence in Trump’s administration to change trade policy with the Canadians. He was supposed to argue for New Brunswick’s position in a June meeting with Trump, but the CBC reported that the subject didn’t come up.

Canadian Sen. Percy Mockler, who lives just across the border with Van Buren in the New Brunswick town of Saint Leonard, met with LePage on Tuesday in Limestone to discuss lumber, energy and agriculture. The governor’s office didn’t answer a request for comment. Mockler did.

He called it “a first” since he got into politics in 1982 that “we have a governor that can speak to the president” in Maine, praising LePage for “a no-nonsense approach” to trade politics and calling him a “conduit” to Trump.

“I left the meeting assured that the governor clearly understands and believes that what is good for Maine is good for New Brunswick and what is good for New Brunswick is good for Maine,” Mockler said. “So, this will continue to create a positive atmosphere going forward because like him, our objective is to create and retain good-paying jobs for our people.” — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • A former LePage aide is heading up the first political action committee to organize against Maine’s Medicaid expansion referendum. Welfare to Work PAC registered with the Maine Ethics Commission on Friday and it’s run by Michael Hersey of Waterville, who was in charge of vetting candidates for boards and commissions for LePage during his first term. He has also held posts at Maine’s economic development department and in LePage’s PAC. The treasurer of the new PAC is Brett Baber, a Veazie lawyer who lost to state Sen. Jim Dill, D-Old Town, last year. They’ve reported little financial activity so far, so they’ve got some catching up to do with proponents, who have raised $85,000 through July’s end. — Michael Shepherd  
  • A South Portland man became the ninth Democrat to jump into the 2018 gubernatorial race on Friday. You’ve probably never heard of Kenneth Forrest Pinet, but he’s the next one into the field, which is headlined so far by Attorney General Janet Mills of Farmington, former House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick and attorney, Army veteran Adam Cote of Sanford, former state Sen. Jim Boyle of Gorham and former state Rep. Diane Russell of Portland. — Michael Shepherd  
  • A Hancock County business owner has formally jumped into the race to unseat Bruce Poliquin. Tim Rich of Seal Harbor, who owns the Independent Cafe in Bar Harbor, announced his candidacy for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat during a public event on Saturday in Bar Harbor. Rich, a Democrat, said during the speech that he supports universal health care, measures to fight climate change and “a livable wage” for employees. Rich said he had “no taste for political office” in the past but is campaigning so he doesn’t have to “sit by and watch things getting harder for you and me and for our state and our country.” Rich joins state Rep. Jared Golden of Auburn as another Democrat in the race, though neither has filed his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. — Christopher Cousins

Correction: An earlier version of this item misstated Boyle’s hometown. It is Gorham.

Reading list

I’m not Maine’s ambassador for all things Maine, but I play one while on vacation

Keen readers of the Daily Brief might have noticed that I’ve been contributing even less than usual lately (Mike Shepherd is a ferocious political content machine) and it’s because I’m on vacation. I have, however, been doing my best to promote our great state.

Last week, a journalist friend from Namibia visited for a few days and I did my best to give him the full experience. We drank Shipyard beer. He ate lobsters, scallops and clams. We sat in the backyard and were chewed by bugs. We spent a day at Popham and he took advantage of the legendary deal in which you can buy three T-shirts for $10 at Renys. We took a walk in the forest, which is what he enjoyed the most because Namibia has very few and there are animals in those forests that can and will kill you.

On the morning of his departure, we ate massive, full-on American breakfasts at a Route 1 diner with booths — a setting he said he’s seen on television but never in person. We intended to send him back to Boston with a quart of wild blueberries, but the roadside sellers weren’t out yet.

He called Maine one of the most beautiful places he’s ever seen, which is saying something considering the natural beauty of his own country, where cheetahs and giraffes roam on the edge of towns.

I wasn’t finished yet. Over the weekend I helped my aunt and her husband move from Connecticut to Maine, which is something they’ve been planning for a couple of years.

There were lots of jokes about signs they’re becoming “real Mainers” but they have work to do. They had a couple of license plates strewn across their lawn, which they said were indicators of Maine-ness but which I said needed to be rusty American-made cars on blocks. I also informed them that no, their recent installation of a wood stove isn’t enough: they need some of the shingles missing outdoors and tar paper showing.

The house left behind in Connecticut was pristine and their late-career lives there were rich, but both told me privately that Maine holds a better future. “I love this house,” said my aunt, “but I don’t feel as held here as I do at our house in Maine.”  

Her husband agreed. “I’m so sick of all the keeping up with the Joneses,” he said. “It’s just such a better pace in Maine.”

Hear, hear. Don’t ever let anyone tell you our state doesn’t have its merits and that outsiders don’t see them for what they are. Here’s our soundtrack (click on the video) from the Daily Brief’s friend and colleague Troy Bennett, who would be the ultimate ambassador of Maine if there were one. And not just when he’s on vacation. — Christopher Cousins

Programming notes

To allow us to concentrate on the 72 hours of grief counseling required after Julian Edelman’s season-ending knee injury. Daily Brief will go on injured reserve Tuesday. We will return Wednesday. Also, there was a bad link in last Thursday’s item about a high-cholesterol sculpture. Here is the buttery soundtrack.

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.