OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s swift embrace of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden illustrates the degree to which Canada, one of America’s closest allies, is looking forward to turning the page on the Donald Trump era.
Trudeau was the first world leader to congratulate Biden when he was declared the winner of the November election, and now hopes to be the first – or one of the first – to meet with the new president after he takes office on Wednesday.
“It’s very much a tradition that the Canadian prime minister and the U.S. president meet very quickly to be able to talk about all the tremendous things that we can do together,” Trudeau said in a Reuters interview on Thursday.
Mired in a long-running diplomatic dispute with China and weighing a possible snap election this year, Trudeau has much riding on his relationship with Biden.
Canada shares a land border only with the United States, which is by far its top export market, and it has often been the first foreign trip for a new U.S. president.
That was not the case for Trump, a Republican who traveled only once to Canada for a G7 meeting in 2018, and then blasted Trudeau for being “very dishonest and weak” after he left.
That contrasts with the Liberal Trudeau’s close relationship with former Democratic President Barack Obama. In December 2016, after Trump’s election, Biden, Obama’s vice-president, passed the progressive torch to Trudeau on a visit to Ottawa.
“The world’s going to spend a lot of time looking to you, Mr. Prime Minister, as we see more and more challenges to the liberal international order than any time since the end of World War Two,” Biden said.
Canada’s relationship with the United States “went from the very best it probably ever was to near the worst it ever was,” said Bruce Heyman, Obama’s last ambassador to Canada.
While Trudeau sought not to provoke Trump, especially during difficult talks on a new North American trade treaty, Canada ended up in the crossfire of the U.S.-China trade war.
After the 2018 Vancouver detention of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. arrest warrant, Beijing detained two Canadian men and charged them with espionage. Meng remains under house arrest and the Canadians in Chinese prisons.
Now Trudeau and other allies are counting on Biden to re-engage on the world stage, in part to contain a “more assertive and sometimes problematic China”, Trudeau said in Thursday’s interview.
“We are seeing how volatile the U.S. situation is, and all of us want to push the reset button so we can focus on the three Cs – climate, China and COVID,” a senior diplomatic source from a Western country said.
“It is hugely important for both sides (Canada and the United States) to start a new chapter in the wake of the Trump era.”
Domestic politics is also in play in Trudeau’s eagerness to renew U.S. ties with a potential election in 2021.
Trudeau will want “to create a sense among Canadians (that) you’ve got to keep Trudeau because these guys click, and this is the opportunity to really be engaged with the Americans and kick this to the next level,” said Chris Sands, head of the Canada Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Center.
“Trudeau hopes that will outshine anything his opposition can do” with the new president, Sands said.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Howard Goller)