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opinion

If, as is reputed, Vice-President Mike Pence enjoys being obscure, he’s on a roll. According to a recent CNN poll, 12 per cent of American adults have never heard of him.

The Bible thumper from Indiana is mocked on late night television for having a personality duller than a three-toed sloth. He fears, as the comics have it, that if he drinks too much ginger ale he will slur his words.

He’s the least noteworthy fellow to serve as VP since another Indiana native, Dan Quayle, made a fool of himself 30 years ago while looking for something to do under president George H. W. Bush.

In an outing that isn’t likely to do much for his phantom stature, Mr. Pence comes to Ottawa Thursday. Normally it’s the president himself who visits the nation’s capital. But Donald Trump is the only Republican president since Herbert Hoover not to make a bilateral visit. He did appear for a Group of Seven summit in Quebec City but left in a hissy fit, hurling tweeted insults at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. There is no desire to have him back.

Stand-in Mr. Pence, whose dreams of a Trump impeachment are pretty much shattered, will be here to boost trade prospects, specifically ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. That he is coming at all is a positive signal for bilateral relations – a goodwill gesture after a long run of cross-border agitation.

The prospects for treaty ratification have improved since the Trump administration recently dropped the steel and aluminum tariffs that they had no just cause for levying in the first place.

Mr. Pence will receive a pleasant welcome not only from Mr. Trudeau, but Conservatives as well. Mr. Trudeau and his team of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, have weathered the sounds and fury and outrages of Trump the destabilizer rather well.

They profoundly oppose what this President is doing on immigration, on climate change, on racial relations, on income inequality, on coddling up to dictators. But the one big bilateral issue of trade relations is too important to jeopardize. So they will put on happy faces.

The Pence appearance could see some rare bipartisanship. The Conservatives were of considerable assistance in lobbying U.S. Congress on the lifting of the metals tariffs. “Our strategy & outreach helped turn the tide,” MP Erin O’Toole boasted on Twitter.

Realizing it would be foolhardy to show themselves in league with Mr. Trump, the Tories have done an effective job of distancing themselves from their American conservative brethren. But steering clear of the President, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer cannot help but notice how well Trumpism is faring in other countries.

Mr. Pence arrives at a time when it is on the march, when big gains are being made by nationalist, populist and nativist emulators of the Trump way. Telling the tale are election results in Australia, India, Italy, Brazil and last weekend’s European Parliament elections, particularly in respect to Britain and France. The Scheer Conservatives know Canada is a different can of tuna – but not necessarily all that different. They know that the trend could bode well for them in the fall election.

In the Pence talks, China is an issue that is sure to arise, specifically the detainment of two Canadians in China after the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. Ms. Meng’s detainment is the result of a White House feud with Beijing over alleged nefarious activity by the Chinese telecommunications company. But not much headway can be made on that issue given that trade talks between the U.S. and China are currently off the rails.

Good news is that unlike Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence is not an avid protectionist. His heavily trade-dependent home town of Columbus, Ind., was being hit hard by the steel and aluminum import levies and it’s a safe bet that he lobbied the President to have them removed.

A hard-boned conservative who has enraged the LGBTQ community with his backward views, Mr. Pence lacks the power that previous vice-presidents such as Joe Biden, Dick Cheney and Al Gore enjoyed.

But he is a devoted acolyte of the President and a key connection for him to the religious right and to big money men in the party such as the Koch brothers. Mr. Trump values him highly, a good reason that he will receive, despite being Mike Pence, a positive reception in Ottawa.