It was easy for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to understand the political fallout of his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. All he had to do was look across the Commons at who was attacking him.
The Conservatives barely said a word. It was the NDP who screamed.
When it came to interests, and the economy, this was a sign of success for Mr. Trudeau. The Tories tacitly admitted he had a good day when Mr. Trump said he only wants to tweak trade with Canada. It was on questions of identity where the NDP found him lacking: It charged he was weak in defending Canadian values because he failed to denounce Mr. Trump.
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose has often warned that Mr. Trump will be a game-changer for Canada, and Mr. Trudeau's Liberal government isn't ready. But Mr. Trudeau's trip to the White House on Monday was the big political event of the week, and when Ms. Ambrose faced him in Question Period in the Commons on Tuesday, she chose to ask about taxes. That's a telltale sign that she felt raising the visit only helps Mr. Trudeau.
It's true that Mr. Trudeau came away a winner because he walked out of the White House with reassurances. The fears of Mr. Trump's intentions on trade and rewriting the North American free-trade agreement have created their own tension about a potential impact on the Canadian economy. Mr. Trudeau's meeting didn't produce a lot of answers about what the President will actually do, or the impact it will have on Canada, but it did tamp down the worry. That's enough for now.
The reports of Mr. Trump's conversations with foreign leaders had made him seem fearsome. Conservatives had stoked the image of Mr. Trudeau being mauled in an exchange with the President – Kevin O'Leary, now a Conservative leadership candidate, insisted the relationship would be like Godzilla versus Bambi. But Mr. Trudeau came away with all his limbs. That fuels the notion that the PM can handle himself in close quarters with Mr. Trump, and even find a way to work with him.
That's far from a conclusion to the trade issue, however. Mr. Trump's words were reassuring, but no one knows their meaning. In fact, Mr. Trudeau's meeting and other recent meetings between Liberal ministers and U.S. cabinet secretaries seem to have crystallized the view inside the Liberal government that on many counts, Mr. Trump's administration doesn't quite know its own intentions yet.
It will probably take months of consultations with U.S. business for the administration to work out is own position on renegotiating NAFTA. The idea of a border tax is a scary prospect for Canadian exporters but it's the purview of the U.S. Congress, and its members are divided. Mr. Trudeau's team doesn't yet have a detailed strategy because Mr. Trump's administration, still less than a month into its tenure and with key officials still to be confirmed, doesn't have a detailed grasp of its own plans.
It's probably best, for now, for the Conservatives to say little and wait. But the NDP had a complaint.
It accused Mr. Trudeau of letting down the country by letting Mr. Trump get away, unchastised, from a public meeting. Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan said Mr. Trudeau let down the country by failing to criticize Mr. Trump's "racist" immigration ban.
"From Vietnam to Iraq, Canada has a proud history of standing up to the U.S. on issues of principle," Ms. Kwan said. "Now that he is back safe and sound on Canadian soil, will the Prime Minister summon the courage to denounce Trump's immigration policies?"
The Prime Minister has of course been trying to walk a fine line by asserting he has differences with Mr. Trump without criticizing him directly – and more or less said as much in Washington. Mr. Trump, who tweets tantrums at Saturday Night Live impersonations, is sensitive to slights, so that might be critical to a working relationship.
Most Canadians will accept that, because they'll think it's in their interests. But quite a few won't like it. Mr. Trump may be the most polarizing U.S. president in modern times – in Canada, too. Among centre-left voters, there's an itch to push back against Mr. Trump. The NDP can appeal to those who want it scratched.