Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent Thursday in Washington, meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House and getting face time with the top Democrat on Capitol Hill, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Here are five things to take away from the day:
1. Working towards certainty on continental trade uncertainty
Trump foisted an acrimonious renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Canada and Mexico, and after more than a year of hard bargaining, everyone survived. The leaders of the three countries signed the deal late last year but final legal ratification remains a significant hurdle – especially in the United States. Trump has insulted Pelosi, who essentially holds the cards on ratification because she controls the agenda in one house of Congress. Still, Trump sounded upbeat in a meeting in the Oval Office, figuring that Pelosi and the Democrats would ultimately back the deal, and made a point to highlight Trudeau’s meeting with her after their confab, calling it “a terrific thing.” We likely won’t know for weeks how successful Trudeau was in persuading Pelosi. One test will be whether the matter moves through Congress before the end of July, when it adjourns for the summer. Trudeau signalled at the end of the day that reopening the deal to meet any new demands is a non-starter for the Liberals.
2. Helping two Canadians in big trouble in China
Two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have been languishing behind bars in China for more than six months. Their arrests are widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an American extradition warrant. Chinese leaders have snubbed Trudeau and his cabinet ministers but Trump has been playing hardball with the People’s Republic in an escalating trade war that is rocking the global economy. Trade will be the subject of a meeting Trump has next week with China’s President Xi Jinping at the G20 leaders’ summit in Japan and he promised the prime minister he will raise the detainees. Trudeau said he and Trump had an “extended conversation” in private about the situation Canada finds itself in with China, which includes blocking imports of Canadian canola and pork. But what Trump will say to Xi isn’t clear – all Trudeau would say is that he expects Kovrig and Spavor to be on the agenda for the meeting.
3. Winning in the eyes of Canadians
Managing relations with the United States – Canada’s largest trading partner, neighbour, close friend and ally – is arguably one of the most important duties of a prime minister. Trudeau has had a rough time with Trump, to put it mildly. Trump insulted him over Twitter after leaving the G7 in Quebec last year and he imposed punishing steel and aluminum tariffs on Canadian exports as a bargaining chip in the NAFTA talks. All of that would seem to be history. Trump gave Trudeau a warm welcome at the White House, calling the prime minister “a friend of mine” and touting how the two have worked together on the new trade pact. Trudeau dismissed the past tiff, saying it was focused on what matters in the relationship between the two countries, such as the flow of goods and people across the border. What may matter more for Trudeau – and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer – is how Canadians interpret the interaction between Trump and the prime minister when voters go to the polls in October.
4. Huawei, or not Huawei
The Trump administration is clear: the Chinese telecom giant is a national-security threat and won’t be supplying any of the equipment for America’s next-generation 5G wireless network. The Trump administration doesn’t want Canada or its allies using Huawei products either. The Trudeau government is taking its time deciding. Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale have repeatedly said they will make an evidence-based decision on the advice of their security experts. That likely won’t come before the October election, however. Trump was expected to push the issue with Trudeau when they talked in private. In public, nothing appeared to change.
5. That’s the way the basketball bounces
In addition to trying to salvage the North American economy, protect jobs and bring certainty back to big-business planning, Trudeau had the opportunity to gloat to Pelosi over winning his bet on the NBA Finals that saw the Toronto Raptors defeat her home-state Golden State Warriors. Pelosi paid up on the bet the two made late in the series by handing over California wine, chocolate and nuts. Trudeau didn’t go empty-handed, giving the U.S. House Speaker some Raptors swag and chocolate made by Peace by Chocolate, a company created by a family of Syrian refugees in Nova Scotia. But there was no slam-dunk about whether the champions will get an invite to the White House, in keeping with what is now an often-controversial tradition. All Trump said is that he would think about it.
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