Trudeau speaking to U.S. Governors

Seeking U.S. ties apart from Trump, Trudeau will be first PM to address governors’ meeting

The prime minister’s address, which will focus on trade a month before crucial NAFTA talks are likely to begin, is part of his effort to build relationships with U.S. leaders outside of the Trump administration.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seen here at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany on Friday, will be the first Canadian Prime Minister to speak at the U.S. governors' conference in Rhode Island next week.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seen here at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany on Friday, will be the first Canadian Prime Minister to speak at the U.S. governors’ conference in Rhode Island next week.  (Matt Cardy / GETTY IMAGES
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WASHINGTON—Seeking influence with U.S. leaders who are not President Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau will be the first Canadian prime minister to deliver a speech to a major conference of American state governors.

Trudeau will give the keynote address at the National Governors Association meeting in Providence, Rhode Island next Friday, just over a month before the expected opening of North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation talks.

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Trudeau’s address will focus on trade, his government said in a news release, and he “will also emphasize the importance of the Canada-U.S. partnership in cross-border security and the potential for common solutions on climate change.”

The address is part of Trudeau’s effort to build relationships with U.S. officials at the state and local levels. On the whole, state governors are far more pro-NAFTA than Trump, who calls the deal a “catastrophe.”

But the appearance will also give Trudeau another chance to make his trade case to Trump’s administration, with which his aides have been in frequent contact on trade. Vice-President Mike Pence is thought to be planning to attend, and economic officials may also be present.

Trudeau’s government described the attempt to build ties with governors as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, its healthy ties with the president’s team.

“Our government has worked hard to establish a constructive working relationship with all orders of the U.S. government, especially with the administration, and the president and his team directly,” said Trudeau press secretary Cameron Ahmad. He added: “The prime minister’s attendance at the National Governors Association summer meeting next week is part of that effort, and only builds upon our direct engagement with the administration.”Trump has alternated between praising the trade relationship and portraying Canada as an economic predator taking advantage of Americans. In his weekly radio address, released Friday, he said he is pursuing a “total renegotiation of NAFTA.”

“And if we don’t get it, we will terminate — that is, end NAFTA forever,” he said.

Association spokesperson Elena Waskey said Trudeau was invited to speak by the chair of the National Governors Association, Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and the vice-chair, Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, because of “the meeting’s strong international focus.”

Thirty-three of the nation’s 50 governors are Republicans.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson called Trudeau’s appearance a “smart tactic” that can only help Canada in NAFTA talks. Canada is the top export market for most of the states Trump won, he noted, and governors are “very conscious about trade and jobs generated by trade.”

“We are seeing governors talking about the importance of Canada-U.S. trade to their states,” Robertson said.

While Canadian federal governments have long pursued ties with U.S. state governments, Trudeau, confronted with a president skeptical of multilateral pacts and the international order more generally, has made sub-presidential connections a greater priority than his predecessors.

Canadian premiers and federal legislators regularly attend National Governors Association meetings, and Trudeau’s government has sent representatives. But no Canadian prime minister has spoken there since its founding in 1908, according to U.S. State Department records.

“Not in modern times have we had a sitting Canadian Prime Minister deliver a keynote address at either our winter or summer meeting,” Waskey said.

Trudeau signalled his intention to work with states on climate change in his June statement responding to Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

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Trudeau, Ivanka Trump and Come From Away

Daughter diplomacy: Trudeau’s unorthodox play for Donald Trump’s approval

Hanging out with Ivanka offers an in to a president who seems to value personal relationships over ideology — but whose brand is coming out ahead in this new friendship?

The cameras couldn't get enough of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ivanka Trump at their first meeting in Washington on Feb. 13, 2017.
The cameras couldn’t get enough of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ivanka Trump at their first meeting in Washington on Feb. 13, 2017.  (Evan Vucci / AP)  

WASHINGTON—A businesswoman whose lifestyle brand is struggling with liberals. A liberal-multilateralist prime minister who needs an in with a conservative-nationalist president.

Diplomacy is rooted in interests. And Ivanka Trump and Justin Trudeau both have an interest in hanging out with each other.

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The prime minister sat with the president’s daughter Wednesday night at the Broadway musical Come From Away, the Canadian show about the Newfoundland town that took in stranded Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. It was his second olive branch to her in just over a month.

Some U.S. news outlets suggested Trudeau had been sending a kind of passive-aggressive message: “Justin Trudeau brought Ivanka Trump to a Broadway show that celebrates generosity towards foreigners in need,” the New York Times tweeted to its 34 million followers. Whether or not that was true, he was also offering a kind of cashless donation to her company.

Trudeau joked of his “bromance” with former president Barack Obama. Shared youth and mutual interest in women’s issues notwithstanding, his new bilateral bestiehood appears much more a marriage of convenience.

“It is just so Game of Thrones‎,” said John Higginbotham, a former Canadian diplomat in Washington, referring to the television show in which warring family dynasties strike strategic alliances in ruthless pursuit of power.

Like Donald Trump before her, Ivanka Trump has made a brand out of her name. Her name has been tarnished, in the eyes of millions of progressive American consumers, by her father’s xenophobia and sexism. Who better to be seen with than the fashionable foreign progressive feminist who hugs refugees?

For Trudeau, daughter diplomacy offers the prospect of a lifeline to a president who shares almost none of his principles but who often appears to value personal relationships over ideology and policy — and who appreciates a political gift. Donald Trump has lavished praise upon chief executives who have let him take undeserved credit for their investments.

“It looks as if foreign leaders think the way to approach Trump is by direct or indirect appeals to his ego and personality, rather than in terms of national interests,” said Charles Stevenson, a former State Department policy planner who teaches foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University. “Business leaders have already discovered this, so they bring their announcements of job creation as if they had birthday presents for the king.”

Donald Trump, not Ivanka Trump, was Trudeau’s original invitee to the play, communications director Kate Purchase said. Trump told Trudeau he couldn’t make it, Purchase said, “but suggested that perhaps Ivanka Trump could join instead.”

“We were happy to arrange that,” she said.

“We’re friends and neighbours, partners and allies. We are committed to continuing to build on that relationship in a positive, constructive way. That means talking to U.S. senators, members of Congress, governors, Cabinet secretaries, business leaders, and importantly: the president and those close to him.”

Ivanka Trump has been portrayed in anonymously sourced stories as a powerful figure in the administration, a kind of de facto first lady. In February, Politico reported that she helped convince her father not to roll back protections for LGBT people. In March, Reuters reported that she was “a key advocate for the more measured, less combative tone” he adopted in his address to Congress.

Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau greet people after watching "Come From Away" in New York on Wednesday night.
Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau greet people after watching “Come From Away” in New York on Wednesday night.  (SAM HODGSON)  

But there is considerable skepticism in Washington that the leaks are anything other than self-serving public relations — and that Ivanka Trump has either the inclination or the ability to push her father toward moderation. The president has so far pursued a hard-right agenda that has betrayed few hints of liberal influence.

“Ivanka’s the only one of his children I think he listens to. But it’s just very, very small, and around the edges,” said Joshua Kendall, author of the book First Dads, about presidents as parents. “I think every once in a while he pays a little lip service to child-care, but I think those tiny inroads have led to sort of a feeding frenzy. Everyone says, ‘Maybe we can go much further than that.’ And I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

It is not only the president with whom Ivanka Trump might help Trudeau. Her husband, Jared Kushner, has emerged as one of the most powerful people in the country. As Donald Trump sidelines the professional diplomatic corps, Kushner, a 36-year-old with no government experience, has been shovelled responsibilities that range from soothing Mexico to striking Middle East peace.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, praised Trudeau for astute “realpolitik,” saying his rapport with Ivanka Trump serves Canadian interests. But the NDP has criticized his friendly posture toward a president whose policies foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière calls “racist.”

“Justin Trudeau took Ivanka Trump to an excellent Canadian play about kindness to strangers. It’s a play President Trump really should see. However, Trudeau continues to give Trump and his family political cover,” Laverdière said.

Trudeau’s early work with Ivanka Trump has paid at least superficial dividends. Trump boasted in his high-profile address to Congress of the new Canada-U.S. council on women in business; Trudeau was the only foreign leader he mentioned by name.

The council was an invention of Trudeau’s office designed specifically to include Ivanka Trump. She sat next to him at the inaugural meeting at the White House in February, cameras clicking away. Their Broadway appearance made new international headlines — some of the stories wrongly framing it as a quasi-date, omitting the presence of Trudeau’s wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.

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