It started well enough: Soon after Donald Trump won the presidency, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulated him, pledging to team with him on trade and security to give Canadians and Americans a “fair shot at success.”
“We’re going to keep working with people right around the world. We’re going to work with our neighbors, and I’m going to work with President-elect Trump’s administration, as we move forward in a positive way for, not just Canadians and Americans, but the whole world,” Trudeau said at an event in Ottawa.
Sure, it lacked some of the bombast of a compliment from the lips of a Trump Cabinet member. But it seemed like the start of a working relationship. It probably helped that Trudeau had studiously avoided criticizing Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign (though one Liberal Party fundraising email, from September 2016, characterized the American election as a “fundamental choice” between “hope or fear,” “diversity or division” and “openness and inclusion, or turning our backs on the world.” No candidates were named.)
But the relationship between the pair has since gone south.
First, there was Trudeau’s Jan. 28 Twitter dig at Trump’s ban on travel from seven Muslim nations: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”
Then came their first meeting, during which Trudeau famously neutralized the president’s handshake.
And there was Trump’s strange decision to refer to Trudeau as “Justin from Canada” in a speech, a relaxed descriptor that struck some as dismissive.
Then there was also a nasty fight over trade and tariffs, during which Trump called Canada a “disgrace” for its policies that hurt American dairy farmers. (Trudeau’s response: “The way to do that is to make arguments in a respectful fashion, based on facts, and work constructively and collaboratively with our neighbors.”)
Trump also has threatened to “get rid of NAFTA once and for all,” which would put Canada in a tough spot.
Trump, however, seems to have changed his tune — at least for a day. In honor of Canada Day, the president praised his “new found friend” Justin Trudeau.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2017
That shout-out perhaps reflects Trudeau’s wide-ranging efforts to win Trump over, even as he opposes many of the president’s policies. As the New York Times explained: “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s strategy for managing Mr. Trump is unlike anything tried by another ally. And he has largely succeeded where even experienced leaders like Angela Merkel of Germany have fallen short.”
Trudeau’s strategy: In the days after Trump won the presidency, Trudeau put together a “war room” of “America-whisperers,” seeking to cultivate relationships with people around the president. The prime minister has gone out of his way to compliment Trump, praising his ability to listen and suggesting that the president isn’t a typical politician obsessed with being right. He invited the president’s older daughter, Ivanka, to a Broadway show in March, and chaired a panel with her on women in business.
Maintaining good relations with Trump is important for Canada because, as Politico explained:
In Trump, Trudeau has the most unnatural of confederates: a man whose policies he must oppose and whose professional partnership he requires. No matter how philosophically different they may be, Trump must be approached gingerly because of Canada’s place in the world and dependence on its economic relationship with the U.S. Perhaps that is why at times Trudeau seems to go out of his way not to irk the tempestuous elephant next door.
Europeans have praised Trudeau’s efforts. “The way in which Canada relates to this novelty is interesting,” Italian President Sergio Mattarella said in an interview. He praised Trudeau’s strategy of finding common ground with Trump as an effective strategy, saying “I think that Canada’s example can allow us to have good relations.”
And it’s paid off in some ways. White House advisers called Trudeau to ask him to persuade Trump to remain in NAFTA. The deal seems safe, at least for now.
Canadians, though, seem a little more skeptical of the budding bromance. In response to Trump’s tweet, some replied:
— Andrew Jerell Jones (@sluggahjells) July 1, 2017