Bro­mance be­tween Trudeau, Obama

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY GAVIN MAC­FADYEN GUEST OPIN­ION Troy Me­dia colum­nist Gavin Mac­Fadyen is a lawyer and free­lance writer liv­ing in New York State

Be still my heart. There may be a bud­ding bro­mance be­tween Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama.

Dur­ing their first for­mal meet­ing in the Philip­pines, the two lead­ers ap­peared re­laxed and friendly, brush­ing aside dif­fer­ences over the Key­stone XL pipe­line and Canada’s stated in­ten­tion to with­draw CF-18’s from a com­bat role in the fight against ISIS.

Dur­ing that meet­ing, Obama warmly re­ferred to the new­ly­elected Trudeau as “Justin.” It res­onated as a nat­u­ral and un­forced ap­pel­la­tion — in stark con­trast to the rather cringe wor­thy time when for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush called then Prime Min­ster Harper, “Steve.”

Now comes word that “Justin” will have a White House state din­ner in his honor some­time early in 2016. The last such time a din­ner was given for a Cana­dian prime min­is­ter was for Jean Chre­tien in 1997 when Bill Clin­ton was in of­fice.

That the two would find com­mon ground and form a mu­tual ad­mi­ra­tion is not sur­pris­ing. Both men as­cended to the high­est of­fice in their re­spec­tive coun­tries at a rel­a­tively young age — Trudeau at 43 and Obama at 47. Both ran cam­paigns that promised a re­ver­sal of poli­cies and prac­tices of their pre­de­ces­sors. Trudeau echoed Obama’s 2008 call for “Hope and Change” with his pledge to Cana­di­ans of “Real Change.”

In both cases, those were not just empty and op­por­tunis­tic words con­ceived as a snappy cam­paign slo­gan. They were an at­tempt to tap into a per­ceived gen­uine feel­ing in each coun­try that pre­vi­ous lead­er­ship had failed in re­flect­ing or re­al­iz­ing core val­ues that a good por­tion of the elec­torate held.

Both men like­wise faced ques­tions about their readi­ness to lead. Obama sought the Demo­cratic party nom­i­na­tion hav­ing not yet served one full term in the Se­nate. Dur­ing his pri­mary fight with Hil­lary Clin­ton, her cam­paign ran an ad ask­ing vot­ers who they most wanted to be an­swer­ing an emer­gency phone call at 3 a.m. — the clear mes­sage be­ing that it should be her and not Obama.

In Canada, the Con­ser­va­tives were more dis­mis­sive than re­lent­less in their at­tacks on Trudeau’s lack of ex­pe­ri­ence — claim­ing that Justin was “Just Not Ready.” It is pos­si­ble that their haugh­ti­ness turned off many vot­ers who were ei­ther in­dif­fer­ent to the ac­cu­sa­tion or im­pressed enough with Trudeau’s per­for­mance in de­bates and on the cam­paign trail to see the claim as des­per­ate. In many ways, the pres­i­dent and the prime min­is­ter have, in the­ory, rea­son to envy the other.

Both coun­tries are democ­ra­cies but that democ­racy is man­i­fested in very dif­fer­ent ways. Obama has to envy the Cana­dian par­lia­men­tary sys­tem where the leader re­lies on party loy­alty and con­trols both the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches of gov­ern­ment. To be a Cana­dian prime min­is­ter is to have the power and means at your dis­posal to im­ple­ment what­ever poli­cies one wishes.

Con­versely, when a Cana­dian prime min­is­ter fails to de­liver, he or she will find that the harsh spot­light of fail­ure shines brightly and ex­clu­sively on him or her. There is no way to pass along the in­voice due for bro­ken prom­ises and blame it on Con­gres­sional grid­lock.

It would be sooth­ing in­deed for a prime min­is­ter to be able to de­flect re­spon­si­bil­ity — as the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent can — by say­ing that ob­sta­cles to leg­is­la­tion were due to in­tran­si­gence and par­ti­san­ship in a House that re­fused to co­op­er­ate with ex­ec­u­tive wishes and pro­pos­als.

On the sur­face, the two lead­ers seem to be of one mind when it comes to the im­por­tance of fight­ing cli­mate change, the ne­ces­sity and obli­ga­tion of wel­com­ing Syr­ian refugees and an over­all gen­eral phi­los­o­phy that in­cludes nods to­wards sub­stan­tive crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form.

Alas, what­ever their com­mon out­looks and po­lit­i­cal styles, the bro­mance is des­tined to be short-lived as Obama will leave of­fice in just over one year. But, fleet­ing as it may be, here’s hop­ing that the com­ing state din­ner is sched­uled for mid-Fe­bru­ary.

Af­ter all, on Valen­tine’s Day, it’s best to be with a kin­dred spirit.

“Obama has to envy the Cana­dian par­lia­men­tary sys­tem where the leader re­lies on party loy­alty and con­trols both the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches of gov­ern­ment.”

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