WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is offering an enthusiastic, compliment-filled welcome to Justin Trudeau, playing down talk of an early potential irritant over the next prime minister's military policies.
The U.S. ambassador to Canada expressed excitement Wednesday about working with the future leader, whom he says he's already gotten to know socially during his time in opposition.
"He's a good man. He's smart, he's affable, he's caring," Bruce Heyman said in an interview Wednesday.
"He's going to be a great representative for your country ... I am very encouraged by the language, by the style, by the personality of Mr. Trudeau."
Heyman said Trudeau has already expressed an interest in sitting down with President Barack Obama beyond their encounters at international summits. Heyman described that as a matter of scheduling, and working out details around the upcoming calendar.
He played down suggestions that Trudeau created a political headache for the president on his first day after being elected. Trudeau said he'd spoken to Obama on the phone, and informed him of his intention to withdraw from the Mideast bombing mission like he promised during the campaign.
News that Canada was reconsidering its role made the front page of the Washington Post under the headline: "New Leader To Pull Canada Out Of Islamic State Bombing." Coupled with Trudeau's plan to cancel the purchase of F-35 fighter planes, one insider involved in Canada-U.S. relations said: "People are worried (in Washington)."
A new poll illustrates the sensitivity of the ISIL issue for Obama: only 31 per cent of Americans believe the military action is going well, according to the CNN survey — and 71 per cent said Obama doesn't have a clear plan.
Heyman said he's eager to work with the new government, once it's sworn in, to discuss Canada's contribution. Trudeau has promised to remain involved in some aspects of the ISIL fight.
"No — I'm not personally overly concerned. Nor overly excited," Heyman said. "This is kind of an in-between period, and I really look forward to sitting down with this new government."
The U.S. envoy said he'd met with all the party leaders in his 18 months in Ottawa.
Heyman said he looks forward to hearing the new government's priorities. In just a few weeks, the countries will be attending major Paris climate talks.
The goal is to seek a substantive deal in Paris, Heyman said — not just an announcement with distant, hypothetical targets. He said Trudeau appears to be like-minded.
"I think the language that the new prime minister has used is encouraging," Heyman said. "We look forward to delivering not only numbers — but actionable numbers."
The outgoing Harper government was often accused of paying mere lip service to never-met climate targets. As for delays over the Keystone XL oil pipeline, the relationship with the administration was frosty enough that the Harper government cancelled the last North American leaders' summit.
But Heyman saluted what he called Harper's significant successes.
On the Canada-U.S. front, those included a wide-ranging new border deal aimed at simplifying crossing; bypassing a resistant U.S. Congress to build the new Detroit-Windsor bridge with a complex funding arrangement; regulatory harmonization; security co-operation; and military missions abroad.
Heyman regretted that so many good bilateral stories were lost in the noise of one controversial pipeline.
A Canada-U.S. analyst agreed the bad blood was overblown.
"What we really had was a psychological problem — or a certain atmospherics problem," said Christopher Sands, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
"There's some substantive issues, but by and large the relationship was never as bad as some people worried."
The Canadian-American Business Council said it hopes some things continue, like border and regulatory co-operation. But it hopes for new emphasis on continental labour mobility and the environment: "The thing about elections is that they offer everybody a chance for a fresh start," said Maryscott Greenwood.
Trudeau has 15 months to work with Obama.
In 15 months, he might be the bilateral veteran. A headline in the Sunshine State News offered a sign of the looming U.S. election, referring to one contender who's just a few months older than Trudeau: "Marco Rubio Looks Forward to Working With Justin Trudeau on Keystone XL."
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