by Bob Rae
March 19, 2017
Prime Minister Trudeau’s high profile appearance at the “Come From Away” musical in New York this week met with the usual naysayers on social media and elsewhere. “Showboating on Broadway,” “It’s Always About Him” were some of the kinder comments.
As often with Trudeau, his detractors miss the point, entirely. What he and his team are doing is smart politics, advances Canada’s best interests, and is a reminder to two critical audiences — the United States and the United Nations — that Canada’s values, talents, and friendships are worth celebrating. That the trip was used to gather positive publicity may be galling to the opposition but the question has to be “is it good for Canada?” The answer to that is a resounding “yes.”
Serving as a Canadian diplomat in Washington and New York my Dad said many times “our first and toughest job is to get their attention.” There are so many competing issues and interests — principally domestic — in the American political system that Canada and Canadians are rarely top of mind.
But each of Trudeau’s forays into the U.S. have been well planned and well executed. That they are more complicated with Donald Trump in the White House only makes this work more important.
The late night commentators and free spirits can have their fun with Trump, but Trudeau is the Prime Minister of Canada and has the national interest to attend to. That means building relationships, and advancing arguments for Canada.
Canadians know Trudeau loves to campaign and loves the meeting and greeting that is a critical part of political life. Some dismiss this all as superficial fluff. But that misses the point — both Macdonald and Laurier knew that creating a persona and putting on a show was part of the game. Laurier’s contemporaries called him “the Bamboozler” — but they grudgingly admired him for it.
“There’s no business like show business,” but it’s wrong to underestimate the serious business at play in New York. The NAFTA trade discussions will be tough, and the protectionist rhetoric (among both Republicans and Democrats) coming out of Washington is loud and persistent. Americans need to be reminded of the deep bonds of both friendship and self-interest between our two countries.
President Trump’s view of life, that the art of the deal is to do well at someone else’s expense, is short-sighted and wrong. The real art of the deal is to grow the pie for everyone and understand that not all life is transactional, it’s about building mutually beneficial relationships.
The wooing of the border states, the constant visits by cabinet ministers, the reminders of the deep interest in both countries in each other’s prosperity — this is exactly what needs to be done. And this is what the prime minister and the government are doing.
Any visit to New York also reinforces our role at the United Nations, and, again, the presence of a multitude of UN officials and ambassadors at the Broadway show is just plain smart. The Security Council campaign will need to be carefully and systematically planned and executed — it can’t be a last minute exercise as it was under the Conservatives — and it will require the broadest of efforts to succeed. Most of them will not be high profile, but when the opportunity arises, take advantage of it and reinforce some key Canadian messages.
Next week’s budget will be a reminder that the serious work of governing is never easy, and that the poetry of campaigning has to give way to the prose of making difficult decisions. But Canada’s puritanical streak should not deter us from finding moments of celebration and taking stage. We have a prime minister who excels at it, and we all have a common stake in making sure it works to our national advantage.
Bob Rae served as Ontario’s 21st Premier, the Liberal MP for Toronto Centre, and interim Leader of the Liberal Party from 2011 to 2013.