Trudeau and Trump, chap­ter one, ends well

THE SPEC­TA­TOR’S VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

It’s said that Mon­day’s meet­ing be­tween Justin Trudeau and Don­ald Trump was the most scru­ti­nized in re­cent Cana­dian his­tory.

If that’s true, all that scru­tiny has yet to turn up any­thing scan­dalous or even very wor­ri­some. Trump ap­peared to be on his best be­hav­iour. Trudeau ap­peared con­fi­dent, as­sured and by no means threat­ened.

Trump re­ferred to NAFTA changes, which are caus­ing na­tional anx­i­ety here, as tweak­ing, be­cause the trade re­la­tion­ship is very solid, un­like with Mex­ico. Trudeau didn’t rise to any bait about Trump’s in­fa­mous travel ban, cor­rectly main­tain­ing the po­si­tion that he wasn’t there to lecture, at least not pub­licly.

All in all, it ap­peared a good and con­struc­tive day’s work for both lead­ers.

Teams Trump and Trudeau de­serve some points for ef­fec­tive strat­egy. Trump has a prob­lem with fe­male vot­ers. Trudeau, a self-de­clared fem­i­nist who is in­ter­na­tion­ally praised for his pro­gres­sive views on gen­der, cham­pi­oned their joint com­mit­tee on women in the work­force, of which Trump’s daugh­ter Ivanka is a mem­ber. Trudeau lends cred­i­bil­ity to the com­mit­tee’s work, and at the same time shines a pro­gres­sive light on Trump, whose views un­til now have not been well re­ceived by many women. See how they did that? It was smart in that it played to Trudeau’s strength, bol­stered a Trump weak­ness and pro­moted unity on an im­por­tant is­sue.

Trudeau did more than hold his own, which raises an in­ter­est­ing point. There was no short­age of Cana­dian crit­ics, pun­dits and trolls pre­dict­ing he would some­how stum­ble in the sym­bol­i­cally im­por­tant first meet­ing. What does it say about peo­ple who ac­tu­ally hoped the duly elected leader of the coun­try would be some­how bested by Trump? Shouldn’t all Cana­di­ans, as was the case with op­po­si­tion par­ties in Ot­tawa, want the prime min­is­ter to suc­ceed on this file?

Yes, it was im­por­tant. But as noted, the meet­ing was sym­bolic. The real heavy lift­ing on im­por­tant mat­ters for both coun­tries won’t un­fold in press con­fer­ences or scripted events. Rather, it falls to peo­ple who labour be­hind the scenes on trade, bi­lat­eral se­cu­rity mat­ters, bor­der man­age­ment and other is­sues. And on some of those is­sues, we still face se­ri­ous chal­lenges.

Cana­dian agri­cul­tural sup­ply man­age­ment is likely to be on the trade hot seat. Soft­wood lum­ber. The beef in­dus­try, still anx­ious from re­cent U.S. rum­blings over “coun­try-of-ori­gin” reg­u­la­tions that would se­verely hurt Cana­dian pro­duc­ers. The auto sec­tor. And wa­ter. Which we have a lot of, and the U.S. needs more of.

As Trudeau noted, the re­la­tion­ship of th­ese two coun­tries is fas­ci­nat­ing on many lev­els. But it’s also com­plex, and de­fies sim­plis­tic so­lu­tions, which the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is known to favour. For now, rel­a­tively smooth sail­ing is in the forecast. But …

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