Things went differently 450 miles south in Washington.
On Wednesday, the differences between the two approaches will come to the fore as Trump marks the official start of the new North American trade agreement, which is an outstanding achievement for all three participating governments, the United States, Mexico and Canada.
While Mexico’s President accepted Trump’s invitation to attend the ceremony, Trudeau did not.
“We wish the United States and Mexico all the best at Wednesday’s meeting,” said the Prime Minister’s office. “While Canada’s possible participation has recently been discussed, the Prime Minister will be in Ottawa this week to hold scheduled cabinet meetings and the long-scheduled session of Parliament.”
Last week Trudeau himself said he was still in discussions about whether a trip to the United States “made sense” and said, while he was concerned about the threat of new US tariffs on steel and aluminum, “we are also concerned about the health situation and the reality of the coronavirus that still affects all three of our countries. “
Trudeau had the opportunity to take part in his own photo op with Trump this week and declined – a decision that was hard to imagine at the beginning of his tenure when world leaders flocked to the White House for obvious flattery.
Many officials at the Canadian embassy in Washington have the impression that Trudeau has decided to spend as little time as possible before the US general election in November and deal with Trump, said a senior Canadian official. Trudeau, who faced his own political problems in Canada, is now trying to focus his energy on the country’s response to the corona virus, rather than being drawn into the White House photo op in a country that is currently dealing with the Record coronavirus grapples with cases, said this person.
The decision to skip the Washington event is the second time that Trudeau has denied the prospect of crossing the still closed US-Canada border for a meeting with Trump. After the President held a personal G7 meeting in June, the Prime Minister (along with most other G7 leaders) said he would only consider this if adequate security measures were taken.
If Trudeau now hurries to Washington as the number of cases in the US increases again, there is also a risk that he will violate the guidelines that he has painstakingly worked on to model himself as his country survives the global health crisis. The border between the two countries remains closed, except for essential travel, a status that many Canadians support as cases increase in the United States.
When his wife tested positive for Covid-19 in March, Trudeau entered the self-quarantine at Rideau Cottage, his official brick-built Georgian residence in Ottawa, where he raised his three children alone and headed the government. He’s stayed more or less in the same place since then, but got a haircut when the barbershops reopened in Ottawa in mid-June.
The US approach
Trump has now taken a different approach. Trump has been fueled by an intensive testing program that, according to White House officials, protects him from contacting the virus. He has traveled through the country on both official and political trips, including in countries where the number of cases is increasing.
Months after the outbreak, the two men are faced with very different national health situations. Cases are increasing in the United States, a phenomenon Trump has attributed to more extensive testing. In Canada, the daily number of cases has decreased steadily and is now close to the March level.
Canada had 399 new cases on Monday, according to the Public Health Agency. The United States had just over 47,000.
On Wednesday, Trump plans to receive Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador without Trudeau, including for talks in the Oval Office, a ceremony for the new trade agreement, and a dinner at the White House, attended by business representatives.
Lopez Obrador said before he left Mexico that he had done a negative coronavirus test. Like the Polish president, who was Trump’s first foreign visitor in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Mexican delegation is expected to be tested before arriving at the White House.
The trip to Washington is Lopez Obrador’s first since taking office in 2018. Instead of using the presidential plane, he flew commercially with a stopover and sat with his advisors in an economy-class exit row that masked for the duration of the trip had over the face.
Trump once tried to build close relationships with a number of younger male world leaders that he believed could influence him, including Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron. Trump avoided the protocol and went so far as to give both men his personal cell phone number. Several government officials said Trudeau was known for using the direct link to the American president and made regular calls to his cell phone, especially during controversial negotiations over the new trade agreement.
Trump is extremely unpopular among Canadians, however, and Trudeau gradually realized that close relationships with this American president can be an obligation and not an advantage, these people said, and he has increasingly chosen to distance himself from Trump.
In his book, Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton writes that Trump doesn’t particularly like Trudeau (or Macron).
“He tolerated them, mockingly crossed swords with them in meetings, and joked on the straight,” Bolton writes. “I suppose they understood what he was doing and they responded and played in kind because it was in their greater interest not to be in constant conflict with the President of the United States.”