Trump first president in 40 years to not visit Canada

Donald Trump becomes the first president in 40 years not to visit Canada in his first year

At midnight Sunday, Donald Trump will become the first U.S. president since Jimmy Carter not to visit Canada in his first calendar year in office, though former diplomats said they would not make too much of Trump’s absence.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an Oct. 11 meeting at the White House.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an Oct. 11 meeting at the White House.  (DOUG MILLS / NYT file photo)  

WASHINGTON—Ronald Reagan made his first presidential trip to Canada four months into his term.

George H.W. Bush visited Canada just three weeks into his term.

For Bill Clinton, it was two-and-a-half months. For George W. Bush, it was three months. And for Barack Obama, it was one month.

Donald Trump? To be determined.

With 2017 about to end, Trump is set to become the first U.S. president in 40 years, since Jimmy Carter, not to visit Canada in his first calendar year in office.

For four of the six presidents who preceded Trump — Obama, Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Reagan — Canada was the very first foreign destination. For Trump, it will be, at earliest, the 15th, and probably lower.

Trump is likely to attend the G7 summit in Quebec in June. There are no current plans for him to come earlier, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has visited Trump twice at the White House, has issued invitations.

“The PM and president have developed a constructive, positive working relationship and have spoken or met on numerous occasions,” Trudeau spokesperson Cameron Ahmad said in November, noting that the two leaders have had “17 individual interactions” since Trump was elected. “Our offices, diplomats, ministers, and officials communicate regularly on many key files and shared priorities. The prime minister has extended an invitation to the president to visit Canada and continues to look forward to future opportunities to engage.”

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By most accounts, including Trump’s own, the 46-year-old multilateralist Liberal prime minister and the 71-year-old nationalist Republican president have developed a friendly working relationship. Even as he disparages the North American Free Trade Agreement that Trudeau supports, Trump regularly tells audiences he likes Trudeau.

On Thursday, in an interview with the New York Times, Trump referred to “my friend Justin” while inaccurately describing the state of bilateral trade.

“What’s important is the meetings and discussions and the dialogue, not where they’re taking place. And they certainly have been taking place; they just haven’t been taking place in Canada,” said David Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada during George W. Bush’s second term.

Wilkins noted that Obama followed his prompt visit with years of delay on the Keystone XL oil pipeline that was a top priority for the Canadian government, then eventually rejected the pipeline. Trump, conversely, rapidly approved the project.

“What’s more important, a visit or the approval of a vital pipeline?” Wilkins said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump speak at the July G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Though he disparages the NAFTA agreement Trudeau supports, Trump has said he likes Trudeau.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump speak at the July G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Though he disparages the NAFTA agreement Trudeau supports, Trump has said he likes Trudeau.  (Ryan Remiorz)  

In part, Trump’s decision not to visit may reflect a coincidence of scheduling: no international summits have been held in Canada this year. It also likely reflects what appears to be Trump’s desire to avoid going places where he might face protests. And Trump has often appeared more comfortable dealing with non-democratic leaders than with traditional western allies.

His first visit was to autocratic Saudi Arabia, which flattered him with an opulent reception. His second was to Israel, the rare democracy where he is popular.

On his first European trip, he attended a G7 summit in Italy and a NATO summit in Belgium. On his second, he attended summits in Poland and Germany. His five-country Asian trip took him to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Trump has accepted a lone invitation for a one-stop visit of the kind Trudeau would be offering, visiting France in July to attend a grand military parade with President Emmanuel Macron.

Analysts see the relationship between Trudeau and Trump as especially important to Canada given the precarious status of NAFTA, which is under Trump-initiated renegotiation. But Trudeau, said former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, is not in a political position to provide the kind of lavish treatment and protest-free surroundings Trump has made clear he prefers.

“If Trump came to Canada, the adverse reaction could damage the relationship given Trump’s king-size ego,” said Robertson, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “He’d probably hold Trudeau accountable, and after the extravagant Saudi red carpet treatment we could never compete — nor would we want to, given the blowback Trudeau would get.”

Trump has not yet visited Mexico, where he is deeply loathed. And he has not visited the United Kingdom, the most frequent destination for U.S. presidents since the Carter era. After a series of delays that appeared to be related to Trump’s local unpopularity and his incendiary remarks, he is now expected to visit Britain in early 2018.

Carter, who served a single term, was the last president never to visit Canada. Obama visited three times during his eight years in office. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (who all served two terms) and George H.W. Bush (who served one) each visited Canada four or five times.

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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
By

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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