Our Man in Washington

This week marked the first time in almost 20 years that a Canadian Prime Minister visited Washington DC to meet with the U.S. President. It is an important meeting, and also unique in that President Obama is nearing the end of his 8-year administration, while Prime Minister Trudeau just entered office in October, 2015. It is an exciting and interesting time in politics for both countries.

President_Barack_Obama_talks_with_Prime_Minister_Justin_Trudeau_of_Canada

When a Canadian Prime Minister is in Washington DC for a State Dinner, there is much pomp and pageantry to be sure.  Why all the symbolic and lavish celebrations at this meeting? The reason is, beyond the serious policy discussions over border issues, energy, and environmental protection, there must be something to denote the very special relationship between our two countries. Of the 200 countries on Earth, are there two closer and more aligned with each other? Despite some key differences, the answer is still, “probably not”.

The public reaction to this meeting between the Prime Minister and President is telling. They range from a sour grapes bitterness from those who despise the lavishness of the affair, to those who are fawning over the luxurious fashions worn and the ornate meals eaten.

Somewhere in between, however, is one important truth. The leaders of Canada and the U.S. must meet. And they must get along. When they do, the citizens of both countries benefit. It’s hard to think of any benefit from a sour relationship between the two.

I have only read about the legendary chilly relationship between former Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Nixon in the 1970’s. But I do vividly recall the favourable friendship between Prime Minister Mulroney and President Reagan. They even had a 1985 meeting in Quebec City known as the “Shamrock Summit”. Then, as now, there was the predictable loathing of the fancy dinners and celebratory atmosphere, along with the typical media flattery for the same reasons.

But one thing is certain, Mulroney meeting Reagan was a watershed moment for both countries. It reconciled relations between both countries after the frosty ’70s. It lead to the joint effort to end acid rain. And it was the first step toward the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement.  Afterward, trade between the two countries grew dramatically with the US taking 80 per cent of Canada’s exports by 1995 and Canada receiving 70 per cent of its imports from the United States¹.

So, while much can be made of Trudeau and Obama trading jokes over rounds of Hudson River duck canapés, I think these meetings can bring out the best in both our countries. They are about recognizing that a friendly relationship is better than an unfriendly one. And knowing that good things can happen for people in both countries from the simple act of meeting and talking.

Mike Chopowick – March 11, 2016

¹The Canadian Encyclopedia, “Canadian-American Relations” (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca)

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