The Sunday Magazine·THE SUNDAY EDITION

Michael's essay — When Justin met Donald

Justin Trudeau’s Washington charm offensive may not stop Donald Trump from killing the NAFTA trade agreement.
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met earlier this week to discuss NAFTA. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

When Justin Trudeau visited the president of the United States, the First Lady gave him a stuffed Big Snoopy dog to play with.

He was four months old at the time. His father was Pierre Elliott, Canada's 15th prime minister; the President was Richard Nixon, the 37th president. And the First Lady was the sorrowful Pat Nixon.

Richard Nixon and Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa in April 1972. (Canadian Press)
This week, Mr. Trudeau, now all grown up and the 23rd prime minister, went to Washington to talk to Donald J. Trump, the 45th U.S. president.

According to high level sources who know absolutely nothing, Mr. Trudeau did not give Mr. Trump a stuffed Snoopy. It might've broken the ice.

Relations between the two men and their respective countries are frosty at the moment — to say the least. Mostly because of ongoing, and from all reports testy, trade negotiations.

The prime minister is miffed that the Trump administration has slapped a prohibitive duty on Bombardier airplanes, making it all but impossible to sell them in the United States.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, wants Canada to drop its supply management regime, which protects the country's dairy industry.

Much of the relationship between the two countries turns on how well its leaders get along. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
As usual, Canadian negotiators are taking a quiet "let us reason together" attitude, while the Americans are pushing their president's America First policy. Correction, I misspeak. The American president doesn't have policies; he has impulses.

Bilateral trade has often been the driving irritant in Canada-U.S. relations. Naturally, each side wants to take more than give. The NAFTA negotiations in the 90s were hard-fought, even bitter. Several times one side or the other threatened to walk away from the table.

The relationship really turns on how well or badly the two leaders get along.

Records say U.S. President John F. Kennedy didn't much care for Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. They're shown together here in Ottawa in 1961. (Canadian Press)
John Diefenbaker hated John Kennedy. The feeling was mutual. Lyndon Johnson loathed Lester Pearson for his — Pearson's — criticism of the American war against Vietnam. Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney got along famously. And George H. W. Bush and his wife attended the wedding of Mulroney's daughter Caroline.

The oddest relationship was between Pierre Trudeau and Richard Nixon. Apparently they liked each other. As the White House tapes show, Nixon called Trudeau an asshole, a son of a bitch and a pompous egghead. Trudeau's famous comeback: "I've been called worse things by better people."

Yet, Nixon was moved when Trudeau called to sympathize with the president over Watergate. For his part, Trudeau was grateful for Nixon's phone call of condolence after the assassination of Pierre Laporte by the FLQ.

According to reports, things at the summit this week either went well or ... they didn't. During the six-minute Oval Office photo op, the president looked like a man whose Jockeys were pinching.
Nancy and Ronald Reagan with Brian Mulroney (L) and his wife Mila (R) before a state dinner at the White House in 1988. The two leaders had forged a strong personal friendship while in office. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)
The prime minister, on the other hand, was all smiles and good cheer, even when Mr. Trump said he might kill the NAFTA trade arrangement. Or then again, he might not.

Mr. Trudeau's first White House appearance was a smashing success. Forty odd years later, the magic apparently hasn't worn off.

His nonchalant handling of Mr. Trump and his moods may be the best way to deal with the erratic president.

Or maybe not.

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's essay. 


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