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Canada's Justin Trudeau might be seen as anti-Donald Trump; he doesn't want to appear that way

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is known for his agility, whether it involves holding a yoga pose or showing some fancy footwork in a boxing ring or even some fancy footwork while doing the bhangra. In the months and years ahead, he will require all that dexterity to dance around the minefield that his country’s relations with its southern neighbour promise to be.

Last week, as United States President Donald Trump signed two executive orders temporarily barring travel from seven Muslim-majority nations and pausing an intake of refugees from Syria, Trudeau took to Twitter to issue a counter: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” He used the hashtag #WelcomeToCanada.

Even as his entire Cabinet retweeted that sentiment, Trump was never mentioned. Trudeau was playing to his base, one that now extends beyond just the boundaries of Canada.

Just about 24 hours after that post, Trudeau was once again on Twitter to mark the ghastly terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque. Trump called him to offer condolences, but there is no indication that Trudeau ever raised the matter of rhetoric from Washington that could have played a role in unleashing such a tragedy. Well, the transcript of that call could be leaked in the future, but the chances that Trudeau crossed Trump are probably as high as that of Trump going off Twitter.

That’s where the reality of Canada lies. Trade with America is critical to its economy. It has had a free trade agreement with its southern neighbour since 1989 and coupled with the North American Free Trade Agreement or Nafta, “the trading relationship between our two countries is so strong that we exchanged US$1.9 (C$2.4) billion in goods and services every day in 2015,” according to the Canadian Government. Since 1993, US imports from Canada have risen 165 percent. With an economy that is struggling, like many others, Canada cannot afford to directly confront the White House even if Trudeau’s global fans may desire that. No, any criticism, as with the tweet, has to be subtle.

A file photo of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Reuters

A file photo of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Reuters

In fact, Trudeau has been more than circumspect when addressing issues related to Trump; whether during the 2016 campaign period or after Trump assumed office. This week, when asked, Parliament Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrew Leslie said, “All of us have to stay calm and carry on.” A former army commander Leslie was appointed two days before Trump’s inauguration, since he knows US Defense Secretary James Mattis. The first major reshuffle of Trudeau’s Cabinet in January was focused on working with the Trump Administration. In his mandate letter to the new Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, Trudeau made clear he priorities include maintaining “constructive relations with the United States, Canada’s closest ally and most important economic and security partner, and lead efforts to deepen trade and commerce between our two countries.”

There are plenty of reasons for Ottawa to be careful how it approaches the US. Nafta itself is among Trump’s targets. The American president has cleared the Keystone XL pipeline. This 1100 mile project will connect oil production in the Canadian province of Alberta to US refineries. It had been nixed by the Obama Administration, much to Canada’s chagrin.

That’s not all. Even the Syrian refugees famously welcomed by Trudeau at Toronto’s Pearson Airport were first vetted through a process that had the nod of American law enforcement and security agencies. A terror attack in Ontario was prevented last year after a tipoff from the Federal Bureau of Investigation or FBI.

Trudeau’s courage has a character limit of 140, one he cannot exceed simply because of Canada’s reliance on America. He may well be the political left’s lodestar after the exit of Barack Obama from the Presidency, but he has to walk a tightrope to ensure his Government doesn’t take a pratfall. Trump will remain ‘he who will not be named’ and that discretion may be at the forefront when Trudeau visits Washington to meet Trump, possibly this month.

While he may be viewed as the anti-Trump, Trudeau certainly does not want to appear anti-Trump.

Updated Date: Feb 03, 2017 12:17 PM

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