Justin Trudeau will meet Donald Trump on Monday in Washington. Normally, the news would be banal, but normality no longer exists in the American capital.
Rarely has there been such a difference in personality and philosophy between a Prime Minister of Canada and a President of the United States. To do that, we have to go back to the tense relationship under Richard Nixon, who treated Pierre Elliott Trudeau as a “hole of c …” in 1971, in his private conversations found among the audio tapes in the White House oval office.
Brian Mulroney enjoyed the immediate friendship of Ronald Reagan, whose Irish origins he shared. Jean Chrétien played golf with Bill Clinton. As for Harper and Barack Obama, we can summarize their reports by saying that they were correct, but nothing more.
Welcomed with warmth and with all the honors to the White House by Obama in March 2016, Justin Trudeau will never have such cordial relations with Donald Trump. On the one hand, the Canadian Prime Minister did not hide that he was not a fan of Mr. Trump during the American election campaign. On the other hand, his government’s policies on the environment, social policies and trade and international relations are so different that it is difficult to see how the two men could become complicit.
In fact, Mr. Trudeau goes to Washington in the same spirit that he has sent three of his principal ministers to him for two weeks. Canada does not want to be in a conflict with its main trading partner.
The big question is not Mr. Trudeau’s behavior at this meeting. He is well educated and he will no doubt be able to assert the interests of Canada without provoking his interlocutor unnecessarily. Trump’s totally unpredictable attitude will be monitored. It can be welcoming, just as it can be distant and then denigrate its visitor on Twitter.
Personal relationships between leaders are important. Brian Mulroney took advantage of his relationship with Reagan and Bush to unlock discussions with the United States on acid rain. Initially, Ronald Reagan did not even believe the dangers of this phenomenon for our lakes and rivers. Will Justin Trudeau win the confidence of Donald Trump or at least convince him of his interest in getting along with his northern neighbor? That is his main challenge.
It was not Gerry Sklavounos who was being watched on Thursday while he was doing his “examination of conscience” in front of the media in Montreal. It was the face of his wife, who was there to support her, despite everything. What a sad spectacle. I understand that for crisis management advisors, the spouse must be there to give credibility to the message, but I think that was a mistake in the case of Sklavounos. A lot of people think that after having gotten into trouble by himself, he should have had the elegance to get by on his own. The member has admitted nothing. The women who had complained of his behavior would have misinterpreted his gestures and words, he said. In short, it is not his fault, it is that of women. The message does not pass.
If he has friends in the Liberal caucus, he should understand that he will not do them a favor by reinstatement. It will be an easy target until the next election. While accepting to sit as an independent, he gives himself a chance to make his voice heard on important issues and to demonstrate that he still deserves the confidence of his constituents and colleagues.