Trudeau in Trump Land
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has finally gone to Washington D.C. to meet President Trump to discuss a variety of bi-lateral relations issues we are told. There is the meet and greet at the White House, lunch, a round table in honor of the President’s daughter on women in business, and a 2pm joint press conference or ‘presser’ to say how wonderful things are between our two countries. The Prime Minister will also meet with the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader in the Senate, both senior Republicans, and both do not like multi-lateral trade deals. Accompanying the Prime Minister are the Ministers of Global Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, National Defence, Harjit Sajjan, Finance, Bill Morneau, Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, and Transport, Marc Garneau. Three of these Ministers were in Washington the week before to reportedly smooth the waters for this visit including Global Affairs, Finance and Defence.
All 33 million of us can now let out a collective sigh. In real terms, it will be several days before we get a read-out on what happened in bi-lateral discussions between the United States and Canada. The ‘read-outs’ come in the form of reports by Embassy and Departmental officials back to the Privy Council Office in Ottawa where they are collated and analyzed. Usually they are pretty bland affairs given that the principals involved read off peaking points prepared by officials so that no ‘faux pas’ get turned into diplomatic incidents and they are timed down to the minute. They sound like very stilted conversations and sometimes do not even respond to what the other statesman or woman says. Please let that be the case, with so many issues and so many Canadian interests at stake, particularly North American Free Trade. The danger here is that President Trump comes off as an unscripted American bully and that our Prime Minister comes off as a self-righteous, arrogant, and naïve know-it-all. Canadians love to make fun of American Presidents and Trump by his antics tends to invite negative attention, humor-driven and otherwise.
Lunch tends to be a bit of a free for all in that speaking points go out the window between soup and salad and people have honest off the record conversations and differences emerge. One can only hope the assembled press corps is tired and focused on other things than ‘the Donald’ and ‘the Dauphin’ and the potential rivalry that many would promote. A rivalry and conflict not in Canada’s national interest. Both national leaders, Mr. Trump and Mr. Trudeau have a few things in common, they are both celebrities and generally like other celebrities and both are independently wealthy and after that things go downhill. To be fair, it is smart to hold a round-table on women in business and appeal to a keen, deep personal interest of the President, his daughter Ivanka Trump. What could possibly go wrong at the presser with North Korea in the news and Missile Defense on many journalists minds and a new Trump executive order in the works on terrorism and immigration? There should be no controversy with North American Free Trade as the political backdrop to the Canadian visit, defense spending, and that Mali peace enforcement mission that has been waiting for a cabinet go ahead and cash for several months?
What we can say so far in terms of an observers read out is that this will be one of the most top heavy visits to the White House and Washington in a very long-time. Can anyone imagine the outcry that would have taken place if former Prime Minister Stephen Harper had taken a mini bus of Ministers and Staff to Washington, D.C. for anything other than say a NATO Summit. In real terms, the accompanying Ministers are props or what the diplomatic community refers to as “potted plants.” If you are not head of government at a meeting like this one, then you are there to be seen, and not heard. But a clue of how deep Canada’s interests go might be found in this top heavy Ministers presence, in that key security-related ministers are over represented. in this case, the Ministers of Global Affairs, National Defence, Public Safety, and Transport, are all in Washington to be seen and not heard, with only Immigration is missing from the list. The only minister present not from a security related ministry is our esteemed Minister of Finance. So just maybe the government is starting to get that it is not business as usual with President Trump and that security is ever important, security in trade, security at home, security in North America, and security abroad.