WASHINGTON — Canada suddenly became a little less lonely in the world after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s meeting in Washington with President Donald Trump this week.
Trudeau and Trump found a new simpatico over their shared desire to see the new North American trade deal fully ratified. Trudeau pushed the deal with Trump’s Democratic opponents in Congress, who want to see a major toughening of the labour enforcement provisions of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
While Trudeau was cagey on exactly how Trump would do to help free Michael Savoir and Michael Kovrig, the two Canadians imprisoned in China, when he meets China’s President Xi Jinping at next week’s G20 leaders’ summit in Japan, it was clear the president was happy to help. The two Canadians have been languishing behind bars in China since shortly after Canada arrested high tech executive Meng Wanzhou in December in response of a U.S. extradition request.
Canada has been caught in the crossfire of the China-U.S. trade war after it tried to do the right thing by arresting Meng as per its extradition treaty with the U.S.
If Xi doesn’t want to talk to Trudeau, Trump said he would: “I’ll represent him well, I will tell you.”
It was a sea change from Trump’s dumpster fire of a visit to Canada a little over a year ago to the G7 summit in Quebec where he insulted Trudeau over Twitter. And it marked a return to the traditional Canada-U.S. dynamic: friends and allies who have the others’ back.
Moving forward, it has real ramifications for Canada’s standing on the world stage and it gave Trudeau a much-needed jolt domestically as he heads into an October federal election.
Both leaders are working to ratify USMCA, but Trump faces still opposition among some Congressional Democrats. But as he extolled the benefits of the deal, Trump was unusually conciliatory towards his country’s two neighbours — countries he regularly disparaged during the acrimonious renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“This means a lot of jobs for our country; a lot of wealth for all three countries. And we’re really competing against the world. You know, we’re not competing with each other so much,” Trump said sitting next to Trudeau in the Oval Office.
“We’re competing against big sections of the world, including Asia and including other areas.”
Trump’s declaration of solidarity amounted to “mission accomplished” for Trudeau in Washington, said Dan Ujczo, a cross-border expert with the Ohio law firm Dickinson Wright.
“The focus was on common cause issues between Canada and the United States — confronting China, the intertwined trading relationship, and shared culture with the Toronto Raptors — as opposed to the dispute-centric focus that has dominated these meetings over recent years,” said Ujczo.
“When President Trump starts talking about Canada, the U.S. and North America against the world, it is a good day for the continent. Let us hope it lasts.”
Scotty Greenwood, the chief executive of the Washington-based Canadian American Business Council, said the American path to ratifying USCMA in Congress will likely be part of a “grand bargain” between Republicans and Democrats — one she suggested that Trudeau could be useful with, notwithstanding his stated desire Thursday to stay out of internal U.S. politics.
“The Liberals in Canada are philosophically aligned with the Democrats in the United States,” said Greenwood, who was also a U.S. diplomat in Ottawa when Bill Clinton was president. “So if Canadian Liberals can see their way clear to a deal, one would hope that the same sort of arguments that caused them to get over their initial concerns would be persuasive with Democrats in the Congress.”
The visit also underscored the shared security partnership the U.S. and Canada share across the globe.
Trudeau was immediately enmeshed in the latest escalation in U.S.-Iran tensions when news of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shooting down a U.S. surveillance drone broke hours before he was to meet Trump.
Trudeau noted how Canadian soldiers are in nearby Iraq as part of a NATO effort to train the country’s military forces.
“We look forward to discussing with our closest ally their perspectives on this and how we can move forward as an international community.”
Trump showed he was willing to draw Trudeau into broader international security discussion when the president was asked whether he was concerned some members of his administration might be trying to push him into a conflict with Iran. It came when he riffed about his desire to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan and Syria.
“We beat the caliphate. We took back 100 per cent of the caliphate. When it was 99 per cent, Justin, I said, ‘We’re going to get out. We’re going to start peeling back,’” Trump said.
But some are wary that Trump hasn’t really changed, and they question whether he could turn on Trudeau again.
“All smiles, I dare say, until the next presidential Twitter burst,” said Fen Hampson, a global security expert with Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.
Trump is a counting in Trudeau “to deliver Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats to ratify USMCA before the presidential election.” And his comments on Thursday for a potential snap back on steel and aluminum tariffs was not reassuring, said Hampson.
“And though he says he will provide running interference with the Chinese on Canadian detainees and Trudeau’s desire to meet with Xi at the G20 summit, the only way that issue is going to be resolved is if the Americans drop their criminal charges against Meng Wanzhou.”