Maybe it doesn’t matter if Mike Pence is upset with Justin Trudeau for raising the abortion issue during his courtesy visit to promote the new NAFTA deal.He is, after all, just the vice-president of the U.S.A., and even former holders were not that impressed with the office. “The vice-presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit,” said John Nance Garner, who held the position between 1933-41. Only he didn’t say “spit”.Still, it seemed ungracious to say the least that Trudeau would discomfit a guest who had come to make amends for past slights by the Trump Administration.Pence came in peace. He complimented Trudeau on driving a “hard bargain” on the new NAFTA and talked of his intent to “reaffirm a successful partnership”.There was no mention of Trudeau being “weak and dishonest”, as the president alleged a year ago – far less the prime minister being consigned to a “special place in hell”, as Donald Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, suggested during the negotiations. Rarely in the field of international relations have two men shaken hands so often, in so short a period of time, as Trudeau and Pence.But the prime minister clearly made the calculus that, despite the bonhomie, embarrassing his guest was in his best electoral interests.Trudeau used the visit to raise concerns over women’s access to abortion in certain U.S. states – a complaint that would appear to have little relevance to a representative of the federal government, far less one on a trade mission.The protest struck a discordant note in a relationship that appears to be back on song.The prime minister has seen Trump lift tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.Canada and the U.S. have a common goal of seeing the new NAFTA ratified this summer.Pence said his government will renew calls for the Chinese government to release two “wrongfully detained” Canadian citizens.
Gary Clement/National Post
While it may be an exaggeration to say, as Pence did, that the relationship has never been stronger, it’s apparent Trump has decided to pacify his northern neighbours in order to concentrate on a more portentous trade war with China.Why then would any Canadian prime minister deliberately antagonize the White House?The answer appears to be because Trudeau is desperate and nothing much else is working.That he was doing so for domestic political reasons was clear from his reference the previous day to “the backsliding of women’s rights that we’re seeing from conservative movements here in Canada and in the U.S.”At their joint press conference, Trudeau used the opportunity to say his government is a staunch defender of a woman’s right to choose.As Pence, who is an equally vociferous pro-lifer, was obliged to point out, people in the U.S. and in Canada will deal with this domestic issue in the way they deem most appropriate.The Trudeau government has fast built up a track record of trying, and failing, to export its progressive values
The Trudeau government has fast built up a track record of trying, and failing, to export its progressive values to countries that decided, on reflection, they would prefer if Canada minded its own goddamned business.The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal nearly came unstuck over Canada’s progressive trade agenda; China resolved it would rather not “put people first” in any prospective deal; “Canadian values” on the environment, gender and Indigenous issues proved a hindrance, rather than a help, in striking the new NAFTA.Chrystia Freeland, the global affairs minister, said back in August 2017 that a progressive agreement with the U.S. would fully support Canada’s efforts on climate change and add chapters on gender and Indigenous peoples.The final agreement fell well short of those lofty goals.Provisions on Indigenous rights, gender and labour rights were included – sufficient that Trudeau was able to make the claim Thursday that Democrats in Congress should support the new deal because it is an improvement on its predecessor.But the truth is Canada’s progressive agenda was at odds with Trump’s priorities. It was a provocative distraction that riled U.S. officials like commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, unnecessarily and made it harder to find a workable solution.
U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on May 30, 2019.
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Canada emerged with a deal it can live with. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s comments that the new NAFTA is an “historic humiliation” lays it on too thick – as does Trudeau’s claim that the successful conclusion of negotiations was a “great day for Canada”.Trudeau, Freeland, their staff and Canada’s professional negotiators deserve credit for negotiating away some of Trump’s more draconian demands. They hammered out a trade deal with a confirmed protectionist that, while it abrogated sovereignty in some areas, did not give away the farm.Canada-U.S. relations sank to their post-war nadir and the disrespect the Trump Administration extended to its staunchest ally will not be easily forgotten by many Canadians.But it’s Trudeau’s job to get on with the president, or in this case the vice-president. Telling him how to run his own country is not part of that remit.• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: IvisonJ