Prime Minister Justin Trudeau intends to forge a personal connection with Donald Trump by playing to the U.S. President’s central campaign themes of job creation and a secure America when the two leaders sit down at the White House on Monday.
But a senior official said Mr. Trudeau will not use the Oval Office meeting to criticize the President’s executive order temporarily banning Syrian refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries – now the subject of a legal battle between the White House and U.S. courts.
“No. I don’t expect Donald Trump to come to Canada and criticize our refugee and immigration policies. [Mr. Trudeau] is not going to do that,” the official told The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Trudeau will be the third leader to hold bilateral talks at the White House since Mr. Trump became President on Jan. 20, after the prime ministers of Britain and Japan.
“At the White House, they want this to be a success,” said another Liberal official involved in Canada-U.S. relations. After the President’s rocky start with the Australians and his tensions with the Mexicans, the official said that the Americans “don’t want to miss their chance” to get off on the right foot with Mr. Trudeau.
For the Prime Minister, the goal is to assure Mr. Trump that the United State’s closest ally and biggest trading partner is in sync with the President’s priorities, which are jobs for American workers and secure borders.
“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,” Mr. Trudeau said Friday at a town hall in Yellowknife. “But I am sure issues of security will also come up and I look forward to having very productive and constructive discussions.”
The Prime Minister, a strong advocate for free trade, the United Nations and progressive policies on immigration and refugees, said it’s likely “we are going to talk about things where we disagree on [but], we will do it in a respectful way.”
But Mr. Trudeau intends to speak positively about the President’s plan to renegotiate the North American free-trade agreement, laying out the case that this could benefit workers on both sides of the border, while stressing the deeply integrated nature of both economies.
“They are very much into job creation,” the senior official said. “They want to talk about how we are going to create jobs in the U.S., but the reality is the way to help create jobs in the U.S. is to have us work together rather than working at cross purposes.”
David Wilkins, a former Republican ambassador to Canada, said he is confident Mr. Trudeau will be able to charm the President, whose business instincts will recognize the value of the two-way trading relationship.
The added advantage is that Canada ran a modest trade surplus of $11-billion (U.S.) for all of 2016 compared with the U.S. trade deficit of $58-billion with Mexico, he said. “The U.S.-Canada relationship is so important to both of our countries in creating jobs and this President is all about creating jobs,” Mr. Wilkins said. “So how do we modernize NAFTA and make it better? How do we improve it so it creates more jobs on both sides of the border?”
The senior official said Mr. Trudeau is confident he can bond with Mr. Trump despite their ideological differences and avoid the bad vibes that occurred between the President and leaders of Mexico and Australia.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto abruptly scrapped a White House visit after Mr. Trump signed an executive order to start building a border wall, while Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull got into a heated exchange during a phone call with Mr. Trump about a deal Australia struck last year with the United States over the resettlement of refugees.
“When [Mr. Trudeau] had his first call with Trump right after the election, he said, ‘first of all, congratulations,’ and the other thing is ‘you are going to face a lot of problems around the world, Canada is not going to be one of them,’” the official said. “It is incumbent on the people who are the leaders of our two countries to find a way to get along. It is too important a relationship.”
A lot of preparatory work has gone into this visit from a Liberal government that expected Hillary Clinton to win the presidency, forcing Mr. Trudeau to recalibrate his strategy to deal with a President known for his bluster and America-First policies.
“No one expects the kind of bromance that characterized the relationship with Barack Obama. Having a good, working relationship with Mr. Trump will be sufficient,” said Colin Robertson of the Global Affairs Institute.
Mr. Trudeau shuffled his cabinet and recruited former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney to open doors to Mr. Trump and other senior members of his cabinet and administration.
Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, chief of staff Katie Telford and Ambassador David MacNaughton have already struck up positive relations with Mr. Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon, chief of staff Reince Preibus and the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
A parade of cabinet ministers – Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Finance Minister Bill Morneau – travelled to Washington this week to exchange views with their U.S. counterparts and set the stage for the Prime Minister’s visit.
The three ministers discussed everything from NAFTA to talk of a possible U.S. border tax to Canada’s role in the fight against the Islamic State and how to beef up NATO and NORAD.
“I think both the President and the Prime Minister are going into this meeting well-briefed on some of our key positions and one would hope that it is going to be a very friendly, cordial visit,” Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said. In advance of the trip, Mr. Trudeau has held talks with provincial premiers to seek their advice on the discussions with Mr. Trump and other U.S. officials. There is a great deal of concern about a border adjustment tax promoted by Republican Speaker Paul Ryan.
“Our strongest case, at a high level, is that the benefits that we experience here in Canada are shared across the border, and trying to deconstruct them at this point, actually jeopardizes economic prosperity and jobs for people on both sides of the border,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told reporters Friday. “There’s a pretty strong consensus among premiers and the Prime Minister that probably the best way to do that is to get in front of as many people as we can to describe how much the relationship with Canadian business actually benefits American business.”
Ms. Notley is planning to visit Washington at the end of this month to meet with officials and remind them how intertwined the economies are.