Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a closing press conference following the APEC Summit in Manila, Philippines on November 19, 2015.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Justin Trudeau is an "instinctive internationalist" who in one short week has transformed the way Canada is seen by the world.

And as he seeks to return Canada to its Liberal tradition of multilateral engagement, at least in part, the Prime Minister is signalling that a new generation is taking charge of the country's foreign policy.

Prime ministers typically come to power by campaigning on domestic issues, only to discover that much of their time is occupied by foreign policy. In that sense, Mr. Trudeau was thrown into the deepest of deep ends by being required to attend four global summits – the Group of 20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting in Manila this week, with the Commonwealth meeting in Malta and climate-change negotiations in Paris coming in the days ahead – almost immediately after being sworn in as Prime Minister.

Story continues below advertisement

All four summits were darkened by the attacks in Paris that threw into question the Liberal commitment to bring in 25,000 Middle Eastern refugees by Christmas.

Nonetheless, with two summits down and two to go, Mr. Trudeau has performed impressively, especially in his relations with U.S. President Barack Obama.

"What we're hearing is that there is a good relationship developing between the President and the Prime Minister," said Janice Gross Stein, a specialist in international relations at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs.

Both sides swiftly dispensed with potential irritants – Mr. Obama announced that he would not approve the Keystone XL pipeline, even as Mr. Trudeau affirmed that Canada was withdrawing its fighter jets from the air campaign against the Islamic State – which allowed the two leaders to focus on their shared commitment to stimulating their economies and fighting climate change.

Beyond policy, the two established an easy rapport marked by casual banter in private as well as in public.

Pointing out that his hair is now much greyer than it was when he assumed the presidency, Mr. Obama warned Mr. Trudeau at a press availability: "If you don't want to grey like me, you need to start dyeing it soon."

"So young and yet so cynical," Mr. Trudeau retorted.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Obama appears to have accepted with grace his new status as the second coolest politician on Earth.

The President has "been eclipsed at an Asian economic forum by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 43, the so-called #APEChottie" because of "his dashing good looks and windswept hair," The Washington Post declared on Friday.

Even Philippine journalists were caught up in the wave, screaming and waving at Mr. Trudeau as though it were 1964 and the Beatles had come to town.

Most important, in terms of establishing good relations with allies, other leaders appear to have accepted Mr. Trudeau's election-campaign commitment to withdraw from the air campaign against the Islamic State. Government sources say neither Mr. Obama nor any other world leader directly asked him to reverse that decision.

Mr. Trudeau's debut has not been entirely flawless. He struggled to remember Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's name and referred to Japan as China during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before quickly correcting himself.

But the word coming from the summits is that the Prime Minister has handled himself with aplomb in bilateral engagements, demonstrably at ease in the company of foreign leaders and remarkably well briefed on issues for someone so new to the job.

Story continues below advertisement

"He is an instinctive internationalist," observed Paul Evans, a specialist in Asian-Pacific issues at University of British Columbia. "His upbringing was not as inward-looking or parochial as that of many Canadian leaders. This is a person whose consciousness is cosmopolitan."

Having just come back from a visit to Shanghai, Mr. Evans said Chinese officials told him that, when Xi Jinping met Mr. Trudeau, the Chinese leader declared: "I knew your father and we knew you when you were a three-year-old."

For Len Edwards, who retired as deputy minister of foreign affairs in 2010 after shepherding the Group of Eight summit in Huntsville, Ont., and G20 summit in Toronto, Mr. Trudeau's assured debut on the world stage has been invaluable.

"At these conferences, he's going to meet absolutely everyone that matters," he said. "And they won't have high expectations. They know he's the new guy. … He has a lot of rope in these early days to get to know these leaders before he has to get into the heavy lifting around issues."

That forgiveness will probably extend to the Paris summit on climate change that begins at the end of the month. By declaring Canada's determination to take meaningful action to fight global warming, and by bringing the premiers and opposition leaders with him in a public show of solidarity, Mr. Trudeau may have inoculated his new government against accusations that Canada, once again, is all talk and no substance.

Paris "is not a summit where we will necessarily make any final commitments," Ms. Gross Stein said. Rather, a "big-tent delegation" will convince other world leaders "that Canada is willing to engage, is willing to contribute and is credible." Detailed plans will be worked out in the months ahead.

Story continues below advertisement

Pierre Trudeau sought to shift Canadian foreign policy toward lessening Cold War tensions while giving a voice to the aspirations of developing countries. That policy largely failed. But Prof. Evans wonders whether Justin Trudeau might be about to try something similar.

"For Trudeau's dad, accommodation and a middle-power role in ending the Cold War is very similar to the challenge that Trudeau Junior faces in dealing with the transition, not between the Soviet Union and the West, but between rising powers, especially China, and an American-centred world order that is no longer sustainable," he posited.

But it is early days for that. Mr. Trudeau still has not had time to put a foreign-policy team fully in place, let alone to work through how his foreign policy will differ from that of his predecessor, Stephen Harper.

In fact, while markedly different in tone, the Liberals may well follow the Conservative line on substance. Mr. Obama made it abundantly clear in Manila that he hoped and expected the new Canadian government would ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement involving Canada, the United States and 10 other Pacific nations that Mr. Harper initialled in his final weeks as prime minister.

While also ratifying the Conservatives' free-trade agreement with Europe, Mr. Trudeau is likely to continue to shift gradually toward an Asian and Pacific orientation in Canadian economic and foreign policy. Mr. Harper evolved toward that stance in his decade in power. Mr. Trudeau, who spent years living in British Columbia, has it in his bones.

In foreign as well as domestic policy, these early days of the Trudeau government are marked by goodwill and an aura of decisive action. But those actions are easy, as the new government reverses the least popular measures of its predecessor. The tough stuff – new trade negotiations, fighting the war on terror, fighting climate change while also protecting the energy sector, and travails not yet dreamed of – lie ahead.

Story continues below advertisement

But for now, Mr. Trudeau can congratulate himself on a singularly successful debut on the world stage. Just not ready? Hardly.

With a report from Bill Curry in Manila.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies