Feminist Trudeau Plays Nice With Trump by Sidestepping Divisions
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is an avowed feminist who put a national price on carbon, raised taxes on the wealthy and personally welcomed Syrian refugees to his country.
Despite all that, he’s making the most of Donald Trump.
The popular Canadian leader has spent the two days since Trump’s victory downplaying the obvious tensions between his philosophy and that of the Republican president-elect. Trudeau has offered to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and spoke to Trump by phone Wednesday. But otherwise he’s continued his long-held practice of not being drawn into a critique of the bombastic real-estate magnate.
“Canadians expect me to work with whomever Americans elect to be their president,” Trudeau told reporters in Nova Scotia Thursday. “It’s important that the prime minister and the president have a constructive working relationship. That’s what I’ve been very clear on since the very beginning of the American election campaign, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
Trudeau will have to deal with Trump on many fronts, including Nafta and a brewing trade war over softwood lumber — long a thorn for the two neighbors. The president-elect has disavowed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the collapse of which would effectively kill immediate hopes of freer Canadian market access to Japan and other nations.
The two are also divided on environmental policy. Trump has called climate change a hoax, while Trudeau has set a minimum national carbon price and owes much of his electoral support to green pledges. Trump is pro-coal while Trudeau draws many of his senior aides from Ontario, the most populous Canadian province, which got rid of coal power entirely.
Trudeau argues Canada’s green push will give it an edge, rather than drive away business. “There is tremendous economic disadvantage from not acting in the fight against climate change, for not pushing towards cleaner jobs and reducing emissions, towards not showing leadership at a time when the world is looking for leadership,” he said Thursday.
Trump has warned U.S. allies aren’t spending enough on defense, a criticism President Barack Obama has himself directed at Canada. The two countries are also poised to diverge on immigration, which Trump characterizes as a national security issue — raising the prospect of border barriers or conflict spurred by Canada’s intake of refugees.
U.S. presidents and Canadian prime ministers have been divided before. Richard Nixon famously branded the prime minister’s father, Pierre Trudeau, “an asshole.” More recently, George W. Bush and Jean Chretien were at odds after Canada declined to participate in the Iraq war. But the two still kept it cordial, according to Senator Jim Munson, a former director of communications for Chretien.
“They may have been so far apart on philosophical and political issues, but it didn’t get in the way of who your neighbor is,” Munson said in an interview, adding Chretien and Bush discussed baseball during unscripted portions of phone calls. “I think there’s a time for everything — and the time now is to be calm, to accept what’s happened in a democratic country.”
Some even see Trump as an opportunity for Canada to pivot away from the U.S., its biggest trading partner, particularly after Trudeau signed a free trade pact with the European Union last month.
“If Trump does half of what he says on the protectionistic side — Nafta re-opened, no TPP — then is this an opening for Canada to diversify its trade base?” Stephen Lingard, portfolio manager with Franklin Templeton Solutions, said by phone Wednesday. “We significantly rely on the U.S., and for good reason. We share similar geography, time zone, cultural values. But Europe is a significant market.”
Trump hasn’t yet indicated if he’ll follow the custom of U.S. presidents making their first international trips to Canada. In their call Wednesday, each invited the other to visit, according to a statement from Trudeau’s office.
“He expressed his warmth towards Canada and its citizens and we also talked about the fact our two countries are closely linked — economically, culturally and at the social level as well,” Trudeau said of the call.
The Canadian leader has faced calls to repudiate Trump. New Democratic Party Leader Tom Mulcair, one of Trudeau’s two main rivals, has called Trump a fascist and said Wednesday the prime minister should stand up to the “sexist, racist” comments from the president-elect. A Mainstreet Research poll published before the election showing 68 percent of Canadians backed Clinton, compared to 17 percent who favored Trump.
At Trudeau’s press conference Thursday, one reporter asked what parents should say when their children question why a man who has bullied his critics and boasted about sexual harassment is about to take over the White House. Another asked what Trudeau told his own own daughter — seven-year-old Ella-Grace, the second of his three young children — about Trump.
The prime minister didn’t waver from his message.
“I told my kids that the relationship between Canada and the U.S. is a deep and positive one,” Trudeau said. “We’re Canadians. We work hard to get along with people. We work hard to push our interests, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”