Trudeau put Canadian interests ahead of politics for Trump visit

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Donald Trump, and various officials from both sides meet in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 13. Photograph courtesy of Kate Purchase’s Twitter

 By Angelo Persichilli

THE HILL TIMES  Feb. 20, 2017

There is no doubt that the visit Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made to the White House last week to meet U.S. President Donald Trump was a success.

All the people in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office involved in the preparation of the meeting must be congratulated. They have shown diplomatic skills, ability in communicating the right message, and a great sense of responsibility. This last point is the most important.

During the U.S. presidential campaign, many Canadian politicos became so emotionally involved in campaigning against Donald Trump and/or in favour of Hillary Clinton that they became more royal than the royals, more American than the Americans.

Even after the end of the campaign and the unexpected victory of Trump, they kept harping against the new president-elect, asking for unspecified action to stop him.

I am glad that those in the Langevin Block didn’t budge under the increasing demagoguery for a populist approach and a shouting match with the White House.

I don’t want to stress again my personal disagreement toward most of the electoral promises made by Trump, like the building of the wall along the Mexican border and the targeting of specific countries to stop immigration. Still, I don’t believe in the demonization of an opponent as a political tool.

I understand that, in the past, some of the most devilish dictators reached power because they were not taken seriously. At the same time, we can’t consider every political opponent a potential Adolf Hitler, giving us the moral authority to stop whoever doesn’t agree with us.

We must be very careful before we radicalize the debate and put democracy on hold to defend … democracy. I don’t like Trump, but he won after a long campaign and he deserves a chance to be president, as long as he respects the Constitution.  

The jury is still out on Trump’s administration, but another four years of degenerating trust from American citizens toward their institutions could have produced something even worse than Trump in the next presidential election.

For this reason, I am glad that the Canadian government did not follow the rhetoric thrown at them to demonize Trump and decided to approach the Washington meeting with one specific goal in mind: defending Canadian interests.

What did they accomplish? I don’t believe that our prime minister, “Joe” Trudeau, changed anything that was in Trump’s mind. Everything was already there on the table, ready for him to take. Despite his folkloristic approach to communications and bombastic statements about NAFTA, Canada was never in the bad books of the Trump administration. The goal of Trudeau and his advisers was to have an official commitment on our free trade agreement, and they got it.

Trump never made secret that his problem with NAFTA is with Mexico, not Canada, and things didn’t change during the one-day visit. Of course, the NAFTA agreement includes Mexico, and we wonder if Canada is ready to dump a friend to defend its own citizens. But this is a discussion for another time.

Trudeau was also smart not to fall into the trap of “lecturing” other leaders while in their home, but I am sure that during the private meeting with Trump, he forcefully stressed the Canadian position on the respect of human rights and the difference between our views and the one promoted by the White House.

I remember when then prime minister Stephen Harper met privately with the Chinese president Hu Jintao in Beijing in 2012, during the private meeting he stressed vehemently the importance of human rights and the need to respect them to improve economic ties. However, during the following press conference, he only expressed the confidence that respective governments would properly deal with this issue on their own.

Things might change in the future, but up until now, Trump has adopted a more formal approach to foreign politics, quite different from demagogic tone we saw during his election campaign. And the prudent approach from our prime minister during the White House visit was appropriate. He put the interests of the Canadians ahead of political partisan interests, without giving up any of our values in terms of immigration and human rights. Well done.

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