In The Media

In celebrating Trudeau, Obama can celebrate his own politics

by Campbell Clark (feat. Colin Robertson)

The Globe and Mail
March 9, 2016

There was a pause. U.S. assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson was asked, in a conference call for reporters on Wednesday, if the Obama administration is celebrating Justin Trudeau at a state dinner because he is a big change from Stephen Harper and the long, bitter dispute over the Keystone XL pipeline. Ms. Jacobson, it seemed, was working out a diplomat’s response.

Er. Um. “I think what I would say is this,” Ms. Jacobson said, taking a breath. “There obviously has been a transition from one government to another.” Keystone was important to the former government, she said, but the Canada-United States relationship survives any one issue. “I don’t know that I would overplay, sort of, the distinction between governments.” Phew. Safe.

But there is little doubt the Obama administration is happy to see the back of Mr. Harper and glad to see Prime Minister Trudeau. That is a big reason the new PM is the first in 19 years to be invited to a state dinner. For the White House, the old Canadian had become irritating; the new one is a lot more like Barack Obama’s political progeny.

Mr. Harper’s spat with Mr. Obama over the oil pipeline bubbled into public view. Mr. Obama’s perception of Mr. Harper is said to have started to sour at the 2011 summit of the G8 in France, when the Canadian PM opposed other leaders’ desire for a statement putting pressure on Israel for peace talks, said former diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. Mr. Harper’s Keystone frustrations combined with a feeling that Mr. Obama disregarded Canadian concerns. He gave the President’s second ambassador, Bruce Heyman, the cold shoulder – Mr. Heyman could not get meetings with ministers for months. Diplomatic co-operation slowed, apart from military and security issues.

The U.S. side has embraced Canada’s change in government. The Liberals have made a high-profile priority of resetting relations. Mr. Heyman was among those who advocated for the President to hold a state dinner with Mr. Trudeau as a symbol the relationship was being refreshed.

The idea is not entirely new. Ronald Reagan went to Quebec City in 1985 and sang about his smiling Irish eyes with Brian Mulroney partly because of connection and partly because the new PM was more to his liking than Pierre Trudeau (leaving aside the brief tenure of John Turner), whose peace missions and flirtation with Cuba annoyed.

But U.S. presidents do not obsess about former Canadian prime ministers. Mr. Trudeau symbolizes something, too: A North American leader in the same vein, a kind of inheritor of Mr. Obama’s brand of politics.

Climate change is an issue that animates both, despite tricky domestic politics. “Clearly, it’s a place where the two met and see the world through the lens in the same way,” Mr. Heyman said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “But I think there was a general way in which the two guys just seemed to connect with each other.”

It should not surprise. Mr. Trudeau borrowed from Mr. Obama: the appeal for inclusiveness combined with economic growth and hopeful campaigning. Mr. Trudeau’s advisers borrowed techniques from the Obama camp. In many ways, they followed the Obama model. The President can see Mr. Trudeau as something of a foreign heir.

That is part of the invitation. The state dinner, Mr. Heyman said, is Americans celebrating Canada. But state dinners are also big Washington events, and Mr. Obama, in the last year of his presidency, is also throwing a party that celebrates his own legacy. It fits to have Mr. Trudeau, who is garnering attention in the United States as a young glamorous leader, but also as an optimistic, left-leaning politician, who welcomes Syrian refugees while Republican presidential contender Donald Trump pledges to send them all back, and bar all Muslims, too. In celebrating Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Obama can also celebrate his own school of politics.

So now Mr. Trudeau will be feted by the White House as the Canadian future. The Chinese President was given a state dinner to acknowledge national weight; others are often honoured as allies. After 19 years, Mr. Trudeau’s invitation was extended because a neighbour that turned distant to the Obama administration is close again.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

No events are scheduled at this time.


Global Times: BRICS summit displays the potential of a new future

by Editorial Staff (feat. Swaran Singh), WSFA 12, June 24, 2022

Oil's Dive Won't Bring Any Immediate Relief on Inflation

by Alex Longley, Elizabeth low, and Barbara Powell (feat. Amrita Sen), BNNBloomberg, June 24, 2022

China To Tout Its Governance Model At BRICS Summit

by Liam Gibson (feat. Stephen Nagy), The Asean Post, June 23, 2022

Soutien aux victimes d’inconduites sexuelles dans l’armée

by Rude Dejardins (feat. Charlotte Duval-Lantoine), ICI Radio Canada, June 23, 2022

Defence: $4.9 billion for radars against Russian bombs

by Editorial Staff (feat. Rob Huebert), Archynews, June 23, 2022

The Hans Island “Peace” Agreement between Canada, Denmark, and Greenland

by Elin Hofverberg (feat. Natalie Loukavecha), Library of Congress, June 22, 2022

What the future holds for western Canadian oil producers

by Gabriel Friedman (feat. Kevin Birn), Beaumont News, June 22, 2022

At BRICS summit, China sets stage to tout its governance model

by Liam Gibson (feat. Stephen Nagy), Aljazeera, June 22, 2022

Crude oil price: there are no changes to the fundamentals

by Faith Maina (feat. Amrita Sen), Invezz, June 22, 2022

Few details as Liberals promise billions to upgrade North American defences

by Lee Berthiaume (feat. Andrea Charron), National Newswatch, June 20, 2022

Defence Minister Anita Anand to make announcement on continental defence

by Steven Chase (feat. Rob Huebert), The Globe and Mail, June 19, 2022

Table pancanadienne des politiques

by Alain Gravel (feat. Jean-Christophe Boucher), ICI Radio Canada, June 18, 2022

Russia Ukraine conflict

by Gloria Macarenko (feat. Colin Robertson), CBC Radio One, June 17, 2022

New privacy Bill to introduce rules for personal data, AI use

by Shaye Ganam (feat. Tom Keenan), 680 CHED, June 17, 2022


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 150–9th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3H9


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6


Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: [email protected]


Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.


© 2002-2022 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email