WATFORD, United Kingdom — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau escaped an international summit with his relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump apparently intact despite ill-timed comments that threatened to ignite tensions between the two leaders.
The damage came in the form of candid comments Trudeau made about the mercurial president that were captured on video and quickly broadcast around the world.
Trump subsequently called Trudeau “two-faced,” but otherwise appeared to take the comments in stride, no doubt leaving Trudeau and the rest of Canada to breathe a sigh of relief.
“We have a very good and constructive relationship between me and the president that has allowed us to move forward on protecting our workers through the renewed NAFTA deal, through the steel tariffs, which we got lifted, through many initiatives,” Trudeau said.
“We will continue to have an excellent relationship.”
Trudeau arrived in the United Kingdom on Monday hoping to bridge growing gaps among some members of the NATO military alliance — particularly the U.S., France and Turkey — as the organization celebrated its 70th anniversary.
Those three countries have been at odds on a number of fronts, with French President Emmanuel Macron voicing frustration over a lack of co-ordination and communication within the alliance, as exemplified by American and Turkish actions in Syria.
Instead, Trudeau faced repeated questions about Canada’s failure to spend two per cent of its gross domestic product, a common measurement of a nation’s economic wealth, on its military.
That included an exchange with Trump during an impromptu 40-minute news conference Tuesday in which the Canadian prime minister tried to deflect the president’s attention from the fact Canada has no plan to reach the two-per-cent target.
NATO members agreed in 2014 to work toward the two-per-cent target within a decade. Canada spends 1.31 per cent of its GDP on defence and is slated to reach 1.4 per cent by 2024-25.
Hours later at a reception at Buckingham Palace, Trudeau was recorded with Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Princess Anne talking candidly about Trump’s lengthy news conferences during bilateral meetings. The video was transmitted by the summit’s broadcast operation, as material typically used in live coverage or to connect newsier clips in a packaged report.
“He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top,” Trudeau said at one point. Trudeau also said Trump’s “team’s jaws drop(ped) to the floor” when the president announced the next G7 summit will be at Camp David, the presidential retreat outside Washington, D.C.
Trump cancelled a plan to hold the summit at one of his resorts following a bipartisan political backlash in October and floated Camp David as a replacement.
The footage quickly spread across the internet and broadcast by international media.
Trump responded during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday afternoon, calling Trudeau “two-faced” and then adding: “But honestly, with Trudeau, he’s a nice guy. I’ve found him to be a very nice guy.”
The U.S. president suggested Trudeau was upset Canada had been called out for not spending enough on its military.
“He’s not paying two per cent and he should be paying two per cent,” Trump said. “It’s Canada. They have money and they should be paying two per cent. So I called him out on that and I’m sure he’s wasn’t happy about that, but that’s the way it is.”
Later, a White House pool reporter noted Trump told someone at a lunch that it “was funny when I said that guy was two-faced,” referring to Trudeau.
Trudeau played down the incident.
“Last night, I made a reference to the fact that there was an unscheduled press conference before my meeting with President Trump and I was happy to take part in it, but it was certainly notable,” the prime minister said during a news conference.
“And I’ve had a number of good conversations with the president over the course of this day and yesterday.”
Trudeau also announced Canada would make a fighter-jet squadron and several warships available for a NATO deployment on 30 days’ notice as the alliance seeks to boost its ability to respond to emergencies.
In Ottawa, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Trudeau’s comments showed a “lack of professionalism.” The party’s defence critic, James Bezan, said the incident, coupled with Trump’s calling Trudeau out on defence spending, “doesn’t bode well for our international relationships.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the incident points to an argument he has made about Trudeau: that the prime minister acts one way in public and does something different when he thinks nobody is watching.
“These two Mr. Trudeaus — in public and private — is something that we’ve seen, I’ve seen, many times, and I think Canadians are starting to see more and more.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made no reference to Trudeau’s exchange as he formally ended the summit, in which members reiterated the alliance’s founding principle that an attack on one is an attack on all and recommitted to spending more on defence.
Leaders also agreed to a renewed plan for defending Poland and the Baltics, where Canada has deployed 600 troops to Latvia as a check against Russian aggression. There had been fears Turkey would hold up the plan unless members agreed to label a Kurdish group as terrorists.
There was also a commitment to ensuring the security of members’ telecommunications infrastructure, including 5G networks. It was unclear, however, whether that would involve countries like Canada banning Chinese firm Huawei from such work, as the U.S. has demanded.
“The decisions that we will be making around 5G and telecommunications in Canada will be based on the advice of our experts and working in collaboration with our allies,” Trudeau said.
“This is an issue that countries around the world are struggling with and we are going to continue to work in a responsible way to ensure the security of Canadians and our telecommunications systems.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2019.
— With files from Stephanie Levitz and Joanna Smith in Ottawa
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press