Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has arrived at the White House for his first face-to-face meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump and Trudeau were both smiling and appeared to greet each other warmly as they shook hands at the door to the West Wing before the president ushered the prime minister inside.
Trump and Trudeau are taking part in a round table discussion about women in the workforce as part of their first official meeting.
Trump says the “system is not working so well for entrepreneurs” — particularly for women.
Trudeau adds that having “women in business is a powerful leverage for success.”
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, attended the meeting and helped recruit participants and set the agenda.
“It’s a smart thing if Canada proposed this,” said Nelson Wiseman, a professor at the University of Toronto. “It takes attention off of NAFTA. And from Trump’s point of view, it contributes to softening Trump’s image, and he’s got a problem with women.”
The two countries will announce a joint task force and are expected to discuss issues like childcare and maternity leave.
The initiative offers some political cover to Trudeau who has repeatedly deflected questions about derogatory statements towards women attributed to Trump during the U.S. presidential election campaign. The closest Trudeau has come was to reassert that he is a feminist when pressed to react to the lewd comments by Trump caught on tape and released last fall during the presidential campaign.
Trudeau was accompanied to Washington by a who’s who of the Canadian government, including Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
Trudeau and his senior cabinet ministers are in Washington with one overarching goal: keep Canada out of the U.S president’s protectionist trade crosshairs.
That’s because Trump wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, has mused about a border tax, and could bring back “Buy American” protectionism.
That is widely viewed as a major threat to the more than $2 billion in daily trade that flows across the world’s longest undefended border — the gateway to the biggest trading relationship on the planet.
Those high stakes prompted Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to reach out to interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose in a Jan. 23 letter asking for the input of the official Opposition.
“The importance of the relationship must transcend partisanship,” Freeland said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press.
“While these fundamental principles of our relationship with the United States endure beyond any change in government, the prospect of a new U.S. administration has prompted our government to actively engage with the incoming administration in order to ensure Canada’s interests are best promoted and defended.”
Ambrose replied with a letter to the prime minister over the weekend proposing they work together on a bipartisan basis to build a relationship.
She noted that members of her caucus have forged strong contacts with American lawmakers and some also have experience in trade issues, a crucial area given Trump’s plan to renegotiate NAFTA.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, however, has criticized Trudeau for not being more strident.
Ian Lee, a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa, said it would be “childish and juvenile and irresponsible” for anyone to think Trudeau’s job is to go to Washington to preach Canadian values to Trump.
“This is a profound misunderstanding of history, a profound misunderstanding of the role of the prime minister of Canada.”
A new NAFTA, a possible import tax and Buy America protectionism would all be catastrophic for Canada, Lee said, so Trudeau has to make sure Canada is exempted.
Freeland, who is also in charge of the Canada-U.S. trade file, will be one of several other top officials joining Trudeau and Trump for a broader meeting about Canada-U.S. relations.
Freeland will be joined by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau in Washington today.
Freeland, Sajjan and Morneau were in Washington last week to lay the groundwork for today’s meeting, while Goodale and Garneau worked the phones.