When Justin Trudeau virtually met with US President Joe Biden this week, the Prime Minister hinted that relations between the two countries had suffered a severe blow under Donald Trump’s administration, noting that “there was a lot to rebuild “.
Tensions over trade culminated in tariff battles during Trump’s tenure in the White House, and his use of Twitter to blow up the prime minister certainly cooled their relationship.
However, despite the often strained relationship between Trudeau and Trump, tough deals were still made, including a revamped NAFTA deal, as countries continued to cooperate on long-standing issues.
“The relationship between the United States is so deep and so broad that you cannot characterize it simply in terms of whether a president and a prime minister get along or not,” said David MacNaughton, Canadian Ambassador to the States. United from 2016 to 2019..
“Having said that, I think it’s of great value if they do,” he said. “There are times when this kind of close personal relationship can make a difference. So I think it’s desirable, but it’s not essential.
Yet MacNaughton said the reality was that Canada and the United States continued to have a constructive relationship on significant issues.
For example, military and intelligence relations between the two countries have remained very strong, he said.
While negotiations for the new NAFTA deal – the Canada – United States – Mexico (CUSMA) Agreement – have been tough, a deal is still on hold, MacNaughton said.
“And frankly, I’m not sure if we renegotiated NAFTA today, we would have an easier time with [the Biden administration]. “
In addition, key figures in Donald Trump’s administration have been able to forge solid relationships with Canada and members of the Trudeau team. Sonny Perdue, the US Secretary of Agriculture was a “great friend,” while former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and former Finance Minister Bill Morneau “got along very well,” MacNaughton said.
Governors and Prime Ministers
And as CBC’s Aaron Wherry tells in his book Promise and peril: Justin Trudeau in power, Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, established a relationship with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was also a senior adviser to the president.
Even Trump’s controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon had said he had developed a good relationship with Trudeau’s Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s chief secretary from 2015 to 2019.
Then there is the relationship between Canada and the United States between governors and prime ministers, MacNaughton said. The premiers of the Atlantic, the West and the Great Lakes meet regularly with their counterparts from New England, the Great Lakes and governors of the West.
In addition, there are bilateral relations between mayors, businesses and unions, he said.
“So to say that the relationship was broken is to put too much emphasis on Donald Trump’s MO”
Chris Sands, director of the Canadian Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Center, said a lot of things in Canada-U.S. Relations are handled by unknown bureaucrats who continue to work behind the scenes and “do important things ”.
The fact that Canada was able to reach an agreement to keep the border restricted but not closed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is a testament to the cooperation and confidence we have [for] Canadians, ”he said.
‘Knows how to get things done’
“I don’t mean it was magic, but it was really good and it was a sign of a relationship that knows how to get things done,” Sands said.
“There were a lot of things that weren’t fun, but they were done in Trump’s day and they are still being done now.”
Still, relations “have rather deteriorated” as “trust has eroded over the past four years, particularly on the Canadian side in the United States,” former US diplomat Scotty Greenwood said, who spent four years as Chief of Staff at the US Embassy in Canada.
“I think the relationship has suffered. I think the relationship between the leaders matters, ” she said. “While there is a certain inevitability in the relationship between Canada and the United States, there are still times when you really benefit from a good working relationship at the top to solve a thorny problem or to create great opportunities.
On this front, relations at the top were at times tumultuous with the president.
And part of that, at least, seemed to be sparked by Trump’s anger at the Canada-U.S. Trade deals and what he saw as an unfair trade advantage for Canada.
In 2017, Trump called Canada a “shame” for policies he said hurt American farmers and would tweet a year later that “I love Canada but they have been enjoying our country for many years!”
What ultimately followed was the tense renegotiation of NATFA. But before that, Trump in June 2018, in the days leading up to the G7 leaders’ summit in La Malbaie, Que., Imposed tariffs on Canadian imports of steel and aluminum.
This sparked a seemingly tense appeal between Trudeau and Trump over tariffs. Trump is said to have asked at one point, “Didn’t you burn down the White House?” – a reference to the War of 1812.
‘Dishonest and weak’
Rhetoric escalated after the summit, when Trump learned that Trudeau said the tariffs were insulting and Canada would not be rushed. Speaking to Twitter, Trump retorted that the Prime Minister was “very dishonest and weak”.
Later, Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro remarked that there was “a special place in hell” for Trudeau, while Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Trudeau had us ” stabbed in the back “.
Such a level of diplomatic vitriol prompted former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to observe that he had “never seen language like this. Least from the President’s subordinates directed at the Prime Minister their more great friend and ally “.
WATCH | Trudeau caught complaining about Trump’s delay:
A year later, however, there was another outbreak. During a NATO summit reception at Buckingham Palace in London, Trudeau was filmed complaining to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron that Trump was late because “he is taking a press conference 40 minutes over “.
Trump would later respond that while Trudeau was “a very nice guy,” he is “two-faced” and was just upset that he challenged the Prime Minister to make a bigger financial contribution to NATO.
WATCH | Trump responds to Trudeau:
Weeks later, Trump would take another photo of Trudeau when he learned of his cameo in the film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York had been deleted from the CBC show. (CBC said it cut the scene before Trump became president and did so to make way for commercials.)
“I guess Justin T doesn’t really like me charging him for NATO or trade!” Trump tweeted.
21 second pause
The relationship would return to focus in June 2020 when Trudeau made headlines for his 21-second break after being asked about Trump’s threat to use military force against protesters in the United States.
WATCH | Trudeau’s 21-second pause:
The relationship would be tested a few months later, when Trump again imposed a tariff on Canadian aluminum, only to back down after Canada was prepared to impose retaliatory measures.
Yet despite these tensions, Trudeau was still able to work and maintain a relationship with Trump, former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson said.
“It was difficult, but every Western leader had a difficult relationship with Mr. Trump.”
Robertson said that while other Western leaders gave up, Trudeau kept trying.
Most important relationship
“He had to do it because it’s our most important relationship,” Robertson said. “The only relationship our Prime Minister needs to establish is the relationship with the United States.”
Greenwood, the former diplomat, said wryly that Trump’s threats to tear apart NAFTA and his disruption of the system have made the United States much more aware of the importance of Canada.
“What has happened is that awareness of the economic relationship between the United States is perhaps at an all time high in Congress., ” she said.
Greenwood, however, questioned whether the new US administration would be able to capitalize on this new awareness.
“It seems to me the question is how will the Prime Minister, the President, capture the kind of awareness that currently exists in the United States … where policymakers value our interconnection with Canada.