OTTAWA, Ontario >> The first face to face meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Trump could be the most important meeting for Canada in decades between leaders of the two neighbors.
Trudeau will be at the White House on Monday at a time many Canadians fear Trump will enact protectionist measures that could hurt their economy and worry the new president could be as combative as he was with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.
Trudeau, 45, and Trump, 70, have vastly different outlooks on the world. Trudeau is a liberal who champions global trade and has welcomed 40,000 Syrian refugees. Trump is a protectionist and his moves to restrict entry of refugees and immigrants are expected to come up Monday. But Trudeau is expected to emphasize common economic interests.
“We’re going to talk about all sorts of things we align on, like jobs and economic growth, opportunities for the middle class – the fact that millions of good jobs on both sides of our border depend on the smooth flow of goods and services across that border,” Trudeau said.
But Trudeau also said they are “going to talk about things that I’m sure we disagree on and we’ll do it in a respectful way. Canada will always stay true to the values that have made us this extraordinary country, a place of openness.”
After Trump signed the executive order pausing entries to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority nations, Trudeau tweeted that Canada welcomed people fleeing persecution, terrorism and war. Trudeau said “diversity is our strength.” His spokeswoman said Trudeau was looking forward discussing Canada’s immigration and refugee policy with Trump.
But Trudeau isn’t expected to poke the new president like his headstrong father, late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, did to previous presidents during the almost 16 years he was in office.
Tall and trim, Justin Trudeau channels the star power of his storied father but is less confrontational.
American relations are crucial for Canada as more than 75 percent of the country’s exports and 98 percent of its oil exports go to the U.S. About 18 percent of U.S. exports go to Canada. There are fears Canada could be sideswiped if Trump targets Mexico in a re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade agreement.
But Wall Street tycoon and Trump adviser Stephen Schwarzman has said “things should go well for Canada” if the president reopens NAFTA because the northern neighbor has a balanced trade relationship with the United States. Schwarzman, who leads Trump’s economic advisory group, said other countries have large trade unbalances and markets that aren’t as open to American trade as Canada’s.
There’s no indication Trump views Canada as a problem or an economic adversary but Trump is unpredictable, said Roland Paris, a former senior foreign policy to Trudeau. Paris called it a very important moment in U.S.-Canada relations and said he’s cautiously optimistic the two will can have a constructive relationship focused on increasing economic ties.
“Canadians expect their prime minister to do two things: uphold Canadian values and to have an effective constructive relationship with the president of the United States. That’s a balancing act and it’s not necessarily going to be easy,” Paris said.
Canada has not been the subject of a Trump tweet but fears remain about Trump’s impulsiveness.
“We’re dealing with someone who has abused the Mexican president and the Australian prime minister,” said Robert Bothwell, a professor at the University of Toronto.
Bothwell said Trudeau should avoid confrontation considering the stakes and how delicate the situation is.
“Most American presidents have been pretty level headed. You have to go back to the monarchs of the Middle Ages or Roman Emperors. How does Nero feel today? Is his stomach acting up? What does the emperor decree?” Bothwell said. “We’re back in the Roman empire. We haven’t had anything like this.”