After the continental trade pact was sealed, Donald Trump talked of having a great relationship with Canada and its Prime Minister and of partnering in a trade bloc to take on the rest of the world.
It was quite the volte-face. If Mr. Trump was serious, he would start by arranging an official visit to Ottawa. A healing-the-wounds tour. So much of that is necessary.
As a recognition of the close friendship between our countries, other presidents have made Canada their first foreign stop. Mr. Trump has made high-profile visits to Mexico, France, Britain and elsewhere. He has yet to visit Canada except for a multilateral Group of Seven economic summit. Which he torpedoed.
The U.S. President still has no plans for a visit. He isn’t interested and Canadians wouldn’t want him anyway.
The new trade agreement has some benefits for both countries. It likely wouldn’t have happened were it not for Mr. Trump forcing a North American free-trade agreement renegotiation in the first place, but that won’t change the northlanders' attitude toward him. The differences are so deep there can be no rapprochement.
For Canadians, he is the least-respected president since the dawn of polling. The reasons go beyond the insults, the threats, the unfounded accusations. It’s because of what he represents, which is anathema to all but a small percentage of Canadians, most of whom are on the far right.
Though the trade problem has been alleviated, there is still so much more to oppose. There are his race-baiting proclivities and immigration policies which run counter to the diversity drive in Ottawa. There’s his attitude toward women – which is straight out of the 19th century. There’s the fact that he is an environmental ignoramus who is rolling back programs to address climate change.
There’s his nativist creed which threatens the international order and its institutions. There are his authoritarian impulses and his refusal to stand up to thugs like Vladimir Putin. There are his taxation policies which primarily enrich the rich, his opposition to gun control and his extreme rhetoric which divides rather than unites.
Mr. Trump doesn’t bear any animosity toward the Canadian people as such. He “loves” Canada, he says. But in terms of values, beliefs and hostile actions, no president has been more anti-Canadian. He is not about to change and if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to represent his population, his post-trade-deal approach with Mr. Trump must reflect its disdain.
With the new trade pact, Mr. Trudeau is freed up on U.S. relations. There is no longer the big threat, the sword of Damocles hanging over him.
This doesn’t mean he needs to be gratuitously antagonistic. It doesn’t mean he should start calling the U.S. a threat to our national security and throw up tariffs as a result. Or call the President “dishonest and weak” and have advisers say a special place in hell should be reserved for him. Or grossly misrepresent trade statistics. Or torpedo summits.
Rather, it means staking out Canadian ground in a firm clear manner. It means that even though Mr. Trump opposes the World Trade Organization, Ottawa should go ahead, as it is planning, and host a conference of 13 WTO countries later this month.
It means Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland should continue as per Canadian tradition to speak out loudly in support of multilateralism and collective security. If it rankles the U.S. State Department, good. It means, especially since Canada is a border country, registering more virulent opposition to Mr. Trump’s dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency.
It means pushing harder on trade diversification. It means carving out good relations with Congress and other key players other than the President. Ambassador David MacNaughton is planning a golf game with U.S. trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer. Good idea, especially if he lets the American win a couple of holes.
Justin Trudeau appears to have come to terms with the realities of dealing with Mr. Trump. He correctly noted last week that the Canadian-American relationship is “much deeper than just the relationship between two individuals who happen to be the prime minister and the president.”
Christopher Sands, the Canada-U.S. watcher at Johns Hopkins University, says the new trade agreement denies the Prime Minister the chance to run against Mr. Trump in next year’s election.
That’s true in respect to trade. But on a whole range of other salient issues, the Prime Minister can run hard against this President and profit from doing so. It’s what Canadians want.