Canada's Trudeau should swallow pride — extend hand to Trump
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It is time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to show some diplomatic acumen and some mettle. 


Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed MORE’s victory in the United States presidential election has the potential to seriously disrupt relations between Canada and the United States. From Trump’s stances on free trade, to military alliances, to immigration and who should be allowed to visit the United States, there are a litany of directions that the president-elect could take American policy that would hurt Canadian interests.

It does not need to be that way though.

Since the War of 1812, relations between Canada and the U.S. have ebbed and flowed, but for the most part been constructive. This is particularly true since the end of the Second World War. Over these last 70 years, Canada and the U.S. have cooperated on trade to make both countries richer, fought side by side to liberate foreign nations (think Korea and Kuwait), and enjoy neighborly relations that are the envy of much of the world.

We’ve also had the sort of relationship where we can disagree (think Prime Minister Chrétien’s refusal to support President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq) without recrimination or fear of retribution.

Simply because Trump has campaigned on policy positions that have the potential to harm Canadian interests doesn’t mean that a deterioration in the two countries’ relationship is inevitable. A crucial step that Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau should take is meeting Trump soon and in person. Personally calling the president-elect (rather than simply issuing a warm — if diplomatic — statement welcoming his election) would also be a nice touch.

Meeting with Trump soon is crucial, since once he is inaugurated, the business of government and the burden of the office will soon draw the lion’s share of his attention.

Trump is inheriting a healthy economy, but a bitterly divided nation. He will not only have to learn to win over those who voted for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Centrists change tone of Democratic race In 2020, democracy will be decided at the margins Michelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award MORE, but also Republicans in Congress, many of whom hold views on trade, foreign affairs, and national defense that stand in stark contradiction to Trump’s.

Domestic politics could very soon dominate Trump’s agenda, and to placate supporters he could decide to rapidly act on some of his riskier foreign policies, such as threatening to withdraw from NAFTA, or bring some overseas US troops home. 

Trudeau has an opportunity over the next two months to meet Trump and do what he can to make sure that Canada’s interests are not only known to the president-elect, but to also let Trump know how the U.S. benefits from its relationship with Canada.



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He might want to emphasize to Trump that Canada is the top export market for 20 of the 30 states that Trump carried last night (and a top four market for all 30), and that those states sold $170 billion (U.S. dollars) of goods and services to Canada last year.

Trade, after all, works both ways, and many of his supporters benefit from it. 

Trudeau could recall for Trump that Canada and the U.S. jointly protect North American airspace through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). He could remind the Republican that when the U.S. invoked NATO’s Article 5 after al-Qaeda attacked the US on September 11, 2001, Canada joined the U.S. to oust that terrorist group (and its Taliban hosts) from Afghanistan — at a cost of 159 Canadian soldiers’ lives — in over a decade of operations.

Like trade, defense relations work best when both parties help one another.

Most importantly, an early meeting with Trump — before the Washington grind takes over the new president’s agenda — is Trudeau’s chance to get Canada on that agenda, period. Better to be early and persistent than too late.

A decision to meet with Trump would not be popular among Canadians. However, if Trudeau is willing to pay the domestic political cost and take a hit to his personal approval ratings, he does stand to benefit by starting Canada’s relationship with the new American president on the right foot. The two men will both be their heads of government for at least the next three years.

Canada’s relationship with the U.S. is — whether Canadians like it or not — a paramount national interest. Trudeau should swallow what might be a bitter pill and demonstrate his ability to promote and defend that interest. 

Palamar is a research associate in CIGI’s Global Security & Politics Program. Palamar expertise includes North American integration, arms control, mediation and negotiation, armed conflict, and empirical research methods.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.