Toronto Star's View: Justin Trudeau takes ‘sunny...
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Mar 08, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: Justin Trudeau takes ‘sunny ways’ to Washington summit

Resetting the Canada-U.S. relationship is a matter of some urgency after a season of strain under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives

OurWindsor.Ca

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is doing his charismatic best to cash in on the celebrity attention he’s getting in the American media in the run-up to his trip to Washington this week, and rightly so. Such a focus on Canada is rare, and it rarely lasts.

This is the most important trip to the U.S. capital by a Canadian prime minister since Jean Chrétien’s visit back in 1997. Resetting the Canada-U.S. “special relationship” is a matter of some urgency after a season of strain under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, and not just because of our $1.4-trillion two-way trade and investment.

We’re also close friends, neighbours and allies. We criss-cross each other’s borders 35 million times a year. We have similar democratic values. Share ecosystems. And our security interests are closely intertwined.

Latterly, we’ve come to understand that we also share a common responsibility for the climate.

As President Barack Obama put it after he met Trudeau at the Asia-Pacific summit last fall, “across the board our interests align.”

So apart from the photo ops, Trudeau and Obama will have plenty to discuss when Obama, the 2008 candidate of hope, hosts Trudeau, the candidate of sunny ways, at a state dinner on Thursday.

For Trudeau it’s a rare opportunity to bend the president’s ear on bread-and-butter issues that matter to Ottawa: Sclerotic borders since the terror attacks of 15 years ago, and the need for smoother, more efficient trade. The never-ending softwood lumber dispute, fuel emissions standards, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and Arctic co-operation. Plus, importantly, setting out Trudeau’s markers for the next U.S. administration.

As former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney puts it, “not much happens on the international scale between Canada and the United States if there’s not a personal relationship between the president and the prime minister.”

While Obama will be in office only for the rest of the year, Trudeau’s visit offers an opportunity to send a positive message about Canada’s Liberal government to Obama’s potential successors as well.

Hopefully not much time will be spent rehashing Obama’s decision to nix the Keystone XL pipeline (tactfully, after the dust settled in last year’s federal election), or Trudeau’s decision (equally careful) to pull our combat aircraft out of the fight against Daesh militants in Iraq and Syria.

Canadians can only hope, too, that Trudeau restrains any impulse to lecture his hosts. His comment to CBS’ 60 Minutes that Americans need “a little more of an awareness of what’s going on in the rest of the world” was cringe-inducing.

For Obama, the summit provides an opportunity to shore up his legacy by working with a like-minded, progressive leader. Obama hopes to advance his vision of a Canada-U.S.-Mexico climate deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, an agenda that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has adopted as her own. The campaign against Daesh, in which Canada is playing a larger role on the ground, is also high on the presidential agenda. So is improving entry-exit controls on both sides of the border.

Finally, the president faces the pressure of an American election season in which Donald Trump is on an erratic roll, sucking the media oxygen out of his rivals’ campaigns.

Playing host to the young, hip Trudeau can’t hurt Democrats with the younger voters who turned out in droves for Obama in 2008, and who the party hopes to mobilize again in 2016. As the New York Times put it in a recent editorial, “inspiring young voters is crucial” to the party’s success.

That’s because far more voters in the 18-to-29 group reflexively tilt to the Democrats over the Republicans. But many aren’t diehard loyalists and need to be fired up to get involved and turn out. That’s proving to be a challenge for Clinton, especially.

Having Trudeau to the White House for dinner, on a wave of celebrity media coverage in Vogue magazine, the Washington Post and 60 Minutes, serves as a not-so-subtle reminder that the Democrats, despite being led by two potential presidential nominees of retiree age, are firmly in the progressive, dynamic camp.

There’s a little cashing in going on, by both sides, in this sunny summitry.

Toronto Star

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