WASHINGTON, D.C. â Prime Minister Justin Trudeauâs first face-to-face meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump was months in the making and on Monday, it all went according to script, Canadian officials told The Huffington Post Canada.
Trudeau stressed his differences with Trump but did not antagonize him. Most importantly, the prime minister left with the two things he most wanted: a recognition from the president of the importance of the Canada-U.S. economic relationship, and a public pledge that Trump would treat Canada differently than Mexico in trade talks.
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a joint news conference on Monday. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
At a joint press conference, Trump said he agreed â100 per centâ with Trudeau that by working together and ensuring effective integration of both countriesâ economies, greater opportunities would be created for the middle-class in Canada and the United States.
âWe have a very outstanding trade relationship with Canada,â the president told reporters when asked about his plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
âWeâll be tweaking it. Weâll be doing certain things that are going to benefit both of our countries,â he said. âItâs a much less severe situation than whatâs taking place on the southern border.â
"America is deeply fortunate to have a neighbour like Canada. We have before us the opportunity to build even more bridges."
Reading from prepared notes, Trump said Canada and the United States share the same values and âa collective defence,â and have âshed their blood together.â
âAmerica is deeply fortunate to have a neighbour like Canada. We have before us the opportunity to build even more bridges, and bridges of co-operation and bridges of commerce,â he said, in a stark contrast to his plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Government officials travelling with the Trudeau said the day went off as well as, or better than, expected.
The mood on the plane back to Ottawa after the day-long meetings was one of âreliefâ and the visit was âa good start,â said a senior official, referring to the prime minister, his advisers, and the five senior ministers who travelled to Washington, D.C.
The two leaders walk down the West Wing colonnade between meetings at the White House on Monday. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
Mondayâs success was the result of months of work and more than 20 meetings held between aides to Trudeau and Trump, officials said.
After the Republican candidate surprised the Trudeau team with his presidential victory, the prime ministerâs advisers went to work building bridges with those around Trump.
âWe just called them and went to see them,â said one official. They bonded during the transition period, talking about the difficulties of entering office â something the Trudeau team had done only 12 months earlier. âWeâve definitely formed a good working relationship with his people.â
Ivanka Trump, second left, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take part in U.S. President Donald Trump's roundtable discussion on the advancement of women entrepreneurs and business leaders. (Photo:Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Trudeauâs chief of staff Katie Telford, his principal secretary Gerald Butts, Canadaâs ambassador to Washington David MacNaughton, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Brian Clow â who heads the recently established âwar roomâ in the prime ministerâs office devoted to co-ordinating all Canada-U.S. issues â travelled to Washington, D.C., and New York City to meet Trump officials.
- Trumpâs son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner
- Chief of staff Reince Priebus
- Special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt,
- Commerce secretary nominee Wilbur Ross
- Economic assistant Dina Powell
- Chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, left, talks to Steve Bannon, Trumpâs chief strategist, before a news conference with Trump and Justin Trudeau. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Monday marked the fifth time that Butts and Bannon have met in Washington. While both are credited with crafting much of their bossesâ successful electoral messages, popular biographies suggest that is where similarities end.
Butts is a progressive environmentalist. Bannon is derided for his racist comments and belief the Western world is at war with Islam. But Butts, who grew up in Cape Breton as the son of a coal miner, might have found some common ground with Bannon.
"Heâs a pretty easy guy to get along with to be honest. Heâs like a working-class kid from Virginia. Grew up a Democrat. Joined the military, became a Republican," said one source.
"The problems he thinks are problems, are the same problems we think are problems: that regular people have gotten screwed over by the economy, the system is riggedâŠ He just has a different approach to resolutions than we do."
Members of Justin Trudeau's cabinet and some of Donald Trump's aides can be seen in the front row during the leaders' joint news conference.
Another big benefit for the Liberals is that Trump is surrounded by people who understand Canada deeply, some of whom have served on battlefields with Canadians. Trudeauâs team had big praise for defence secretary Gen. James Mattis, and homeland security secretary Gen. John Kelly â two officials they had not met before.
"When you have allies in homeland security and defence: itâs good."
Trumpâs team had suggested Trudeau be the first foreign leader to visit D.C., a Canadian official said. But faced with an unpredictable president, Ottawa wanted to see how other foreign leadersâ meetings went before Trudeau shook hands with Trump.
British Prime Minister Theresa Mayâs visit in late January went off relatively smoothly, as did last weekendâs extended visit by Japanese Prime Minister ShinzĆ Abe.
Unlike May, who has received extended backlash for inviting Trump to London for a state visit, Trudeau only reiterated an invitation to visit Canada â not specifically mentioning Ottawa. Last year, Trudeau invited then-president Barack Obama to address Parliament.
Trudeauâs team went back and forth with different ideas for a roundtable at the White House, before Trumpâs advisers jumped at the idea of creating a Canada-U.S. business council for female entrepreneurs.
The topic fit with some of the womenâs issues championed by Trumpâs daughter, Ivanka, and supported by Telford, Trudeauâs chief of staff. Such a roundtable was also something the prime minister had participated in during visits in China and New York City.
More importantly, it could be framed as a business and economic issue â the overall theme of Mondayâs meeting.
At the opening of the roundtable, the president thanked Trudeau for another bit of common ground the prime minister and his team had found: a 1981 picture of Trump with former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau being feted in New York City.
âHis father I knew and respected greatly,â Trump told the women business leaders and reporters at the photo-op.
The framed photo Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presented to U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday. (Photo: PMO)
During the president-electâs first phone call with Trudeau on Nov. 9, 2016, Trump expressed great admiration for the PMâs father.
âHe said âI knew him. I met him a couple of times,ââ a senior official said, something that caught everyone by surprise.
Trump seemed genuinely touched by the gift, which he said he would keep in a âvery special place.â
Mondayâs visit in D.C. got off to a rocky start. Trudeauâs car was kept waiting outside the West Wing because the president wasnât ready to greet him. Following a 20-minute tĂȘte-Ă -tĂȘte in the Oval Office â just the two leaders â their body language suggested things had not gotten off on the right footing. Trump said little, other than to suggest another four-second handshake.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said later, however, that talks were going âvery well.â A subsequent bilateral meeting with officials covered trade, border security, China, North Korea, NATO, immigration and refugees, and the potential new U.S. ambassador. (Ottawa stressed it hoped someone with the White Houseâs ear would be appointed to Canada.)
While the environment was mentioned in the context of acid rain and the Great Lakes, it was far from being the focus â as it was in Trudeauâs talks with Obama last March.
No jokes, all business on this visit
On Monday, that message took a backseat to one focused on bilateral trade. There were no jokes with Trump about whose beer is superior or which country boasts the best hockey players There appeared to be no chemistry at all between Trump and Trudeau. Each stood mostly expressionless, while the other answered reportersâ questions.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shake hands during a joint press conference on Monday. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
Trudeau tip-toed around certain themes. He mentioned Canada and the United States had negotiated environmental treaties together, such as the 1991 Air Quality Agreement.
When asked repeatedly about the stark differences between Canada and the United States in the handling of Syrian refugees â Trudeau personally welcoming them while Trump seeks to bar them indefinitely â the PM mentioned again and again that neighbours wonât always agree on everything, but they will still treat each other with respect.
âThe last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves,â Trudeau said. âMy role and our responsibility is to continue to govern in such a way that reflects Canadians' approach and be a positive example in the world.â
Fen Hampson, the director of global security and politics at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said Trudeau showed a great deal of self-discipline Monday â as did the U.S. president.
âI think this was one of the more scripted summits in recent history," he told HuffPost.
âRemarkably the president, at the press briefing, actually read the script that was prepared for him,â Hampson said. âNow, letâs just hope that we donât end up on a tweet where he says what he really might have felt.â