In The Media

Trump likely to be on his best behaviour with Trudeau, says ex-diplomat

by Amanda Connolly (feat. Colin Robertson)

February 9, 2017

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump might come just one day before Valentine’s Day — but don’t expect any kind of a ‘bromance’ between the two, even if Trump is more likely than not to display better behaviour than he did with his recent first dates with other Western leaders, says a former Canadian diplomat.

“[Trudeau] actually has enormous publicity in the United States and those are things Trump respects,” said former Canadian diplomat Jeremy Kinsman, also a former member of Trudeau’s foreign affairs advisory council. “[Trump] will want a positive outcome because he is smart enough to realize how it looks: If he can’t get along with Canada, then he can’t get along with anyone.”

Announced Thursday by the Prime Minister’s Office, Trudeau’s first visit to Washington on Monday comes after White House advisor Kellyanne Conway and White House press secretary Sean Spicer hinted the trip was imminent.

It comes on the heels of reports of diplomatically bruising phone calls between Trump and both Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, in which he apparently broke diplomatic protocol and slammed both for an Australian-US refugee-swapping deal and Mexico’s handling of “tough hombres.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May visited on January 27 and the visit quickly sparked an outcry back in the United Kingdom after critics accused her of failing to condemn strongly enough an immigration ban implemented by Trump against seven Muslim-majority countries.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit to play golf with Trump at his Florida estate on Friday, and that has raised speculation Trump may be starting to see the need to turn up the charm when dealing with some of America’s closest allies — or at least, those who have yet to come under direct attack from his core supporters.

“He doesn’t get any points with his base for crapping on Canada,” said Kinsman.

The visit is being framed as one to watch in Washington, with the Washington Post describing Trudeau as a “competing voice to Trump on the world stage.”

And while Trudeau levelled an indirect criticism of Trump’s Muslim ban on Twitter, any discussion around such controversial values as inclusion and acceptance seems likely to be put on the backburner this time around in favour of more palatable mutual interest topics.

“Part of the ‘Art of the Deal’ is to provoke and take the measure of the person you’re dealing with so it wouldn’t surprise me if either in the private meeting or at some point he tries to throw Trudeau off stride,” said another former diplomat, Colin Robertson. “That will be something Trudeau has to be on guard for, and I think he will be.”

Robertson also cautioned that while no one should write off any major diplomatic faux pas when it comes to betting on how Trump will act, he also echoes Kinsman’s suggestion that Trudeau’s celebrity might also help mitigate the possibility of a spat.

“We know that Trump likes celebrities,” he said. “That I think will be a Canadian asset at some point.”

The PMO has said little so far about what will be on the agenda for the meeting.

The office’s director of communications, Kate Purchase, said Thursday the pair will talk about the middle class and the relationship between Canada and the U.S.

A statement from the White House says the two leaders are looking forward to “a constructive conversation on strengthening the relationship between our two nations.”

Word of the meeting comes as the federal government continues its diplomatic push in Washington. Finance Minister Bill Morneau is in the U.S. capital today — the third federal cabinet minister to visit D.C. this week.

Morneau is meeting members of Congress and the administration to drive home the point that Canada is eagerly making as NAFTA trade negotiations approach: trade with Canada is good for American interests.

In a speech at Georgetown University, Morneau cited the nine million U.S. jobs tied to trade with Canada, saying they pay better than non-trade jobs.

He also said Canada buys more from the U.S. than all members of the European Union combined, and notes there’s no big trade deficit with Canada.

The government hopes those messages help the Canadian government escape the most damaging effects of the Trump agenda, which includes the threat of tariffs and tougher trade deals.

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