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​State of the Bromance: The Dark Side of our Fist-Bumping Prime Minister’s Love-In with His American BFF

Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama are dreamiest, meme-iest political bros alive. But what does that really mean for Canada?
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA

Just a couple of best bros. Photo via 'The Canadian Press.'

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

I was recently voted, by a jury of my Twitter peers, as the top-notch author of some premium Justin Trudeau smut.

It is a distinction that I do not receive lightly. It is an honor bestowed on me by a man who appears to be a Donald Trump partisan, a fervent Islamophobe, and who wholesale sold off his scraps of integrity and utility as rabble-rousing contrarian for the sake of attracting the views and clicks of an xenophobic mass of online denizens. A real mensch.

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I was in Washington last week, in order to collect some field research for my regular puffery of the prime minister. There, I got an intimate view into some of the tensions that will inform my Rebel Award-winning PM/Pres slash fanfiction over the coming months.

So put on your Sounds of Trudeau mixtape, get into your Justin Trudeau footie pajamas, and light some Trudeau-scented candles.

Because things are going to get downright erotic up in this column.

From Rug-Pissing to Red Carpet

It's been awhile since a Canadian Prime Minister and an American President were buds.

Stephen Harper and Barack Obama got along like oil and water, in that Harper wanted to move more oil through America and Obama told him to go fuck himself. Harper even straight-up bullied Obama's hand-picked ambassador, whose mission, in turn, was to play bad cop with the Canadians.

George W. Bush and Jean Chretien were an interesting mix in brass tacks realism and flat-footed idiocy, though it wasn't always clear who was playing which role.

Chretien and Bill Clinton got along well—apparently they spoke on the phone pretty regularly—while Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan, the couple of good ol' Irish boys they were, got so close that it became political kryptonite for Mulroney domestically.

Richard Nixon got caught on the White House tapes, accurately calling the senior Trudeau a "pompous egghead."

So the relationship obviously warms and chills.


And lots of spoils came from being buddies with the Americans. NAFTA got inked thanks to the Mulroney-Reagan love-in. Gerald Ford got Pierre Trudeau into the G7. Mulroney and H.W. Bush got the acid rain treaty done. Oracle Richard Nixon foretold the prophecy of Justin Trudeau.

But closeness doesn't always produce results. We never managed to stop, slow, or lessen any Southern jingoism—an ernest Lester B. Pearson tried to leverage his friendship with JFK into getting Lyndon Johnson to stop bombing the hell out of Vietnam, only to get assaulted by the unhinged nutjob, who was yelling about pissing on the White House rug. The dispute over softwood lumber has survived relationships good and bad. Continued American insistence that it has a claim to the Arctic because of Alaska won't die. Mulroney could never get Reagan to back down on Cuba.

Watching Trudeau waltz into DC to bro-down with Obama was a reminder of just how bad things had gotten between Harper and Obama, and how things appeared nearing a corner. But then again, not everything that glitters is gold.

My Friend Barack

By the time that Trudeau shook Obama's hand, and they already agreed on a big climate change deal. It was as though their strong and muscular hands, lingering together for just a heartbeat too long, were enough to create environmental policy from mid-air. The firm handshake was enough to make them believe that they were the only two political leaders in the world.

Uh. Anyway.


It's an agreement, which is good, that tackles methane gas, which is bad.

For all of Trudeau's flourish on climate change, he's disastrously far away from Canada's emissions targets that it signed on to during the Copenhagen conference. Is that technically Stephen Harper's fault? Sure. But Justin Trudeau didn't campaign on a promise to fix some problems, and blame his predecessors for others. That would be like taking a job as a gravedigger, but leaving a pile of bodies out in the parking lot because they died under the previous gravedigger.

This methane deal gets him much closer to those Copenhagen targets. Probably not close enough to ward off the red rubber stamp that reads 'failure,' but closer.

Significant, too, is this deal because it's an agreement. America, Canada: they agreed on it.

Striking, because Harper had spent the better part of a decade promising us that a deal with the Americans on greenhouse gases was coming. Any day. Any day now. Just a few more days. Monday. Maybe next Tuesday. Any day. You get the point.

It never came. Be that because Obama was being obtuse, or because Harper was lying, we don't know. One way or the other, we had no real accord with the US—something that, if done right, is significant, like the acid rain treaty.

The methane agreement is that accord. Methane, 86-times more potent than CO2, is, yes, cow farts. But it's also caused by fixable inefficiencies in natural gas production. About half of methane gas comes from Canadian oil and gas industry, which accounts for about 15 percent of our overall greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing that by the 40 to 45 percent that the accord commits us to, by 2025, is not insignificant.


But, aside from the wonkery, Trudeau's fanfare—no matter how, at times, nauseating it became—bought us political capital.

We now have the geopolitical goodwill to get any resolution passed at the UN, or have one person killed by the CIA. Maybe even both. (I'm half joking, here.)

That goodwill, wielded correctly, could position us to play an important role in the Syrian peace crisis, Iranian disarmament, American rapprochement with Cuba, or some other as yet unforeseen international disaster, like if Bono tries to hold another awareness concert for one the aforementioned international disasters.

And the methane deal is a sign that Trudeau knows how to wield capital correctly. It's encouraging.

The Dark Side of Brotown

But what if Trudeau can't handle the throbbing political power sword?

Consider the following: Stephen Harper refused to sign an information-sharing agreement with Obama, for fear of Canadians' privacy rights. Trudeau, just last week, agreed to sign the deal.

Obama went to the new guy, sweet talked, and got what he wanted. It took just a few months.

Maybe that deal isn't the scourge for our privacy rights that some fear it could be. But skepticism tells me otherwise. Cynical me says that Trudeau was too quick and too ready to ink the agreement, then too quiet about it after the fact.

But that's also emblematic of Liberal decades in governance. Talk a big, broad, progressive game to endear yourself to the library-card-wielding public. Do important, symbolic, easy gestures. Then do the most politically expedient realpolitik, regardless of the social or economic cost.


What does that result in? Does Trudeau lay the groundwork for Canadian-American free trade deal with China, as he's signaled? Does he continue the American tradition of hawking heavy-duty weapons to authoritarian states to breath life into Ontarian manufacturing? Does he acquiesce to polite requests from his Brosef-in-Chief that we permit more mass-surveillance in the name of national security? Does Trudeau give up on getting our oil to market, for the sake of protecting American oil jobs?

A closer relationship is probably a good thing, and Trudeau is probably going to manage it well. But the 'but' is a good place for the Canadian media to start.

And it's troubling that, despite all the talk of openness and accountability and puppies and rainbows and unicorns and Syrian refugees in party hats, Trudeau is abysmally bad at telling us what he plans to do, or why he's done it. When he does cast aside the talking points, an unintelligible stream of Nu-Politic bullshit comes out that couldn't be deciphered by a team of 50 Elliot Aldersons.

Contrast that with Obama, who—regardless of his evil-doings and drone-killings—directly explains the how, why, when, and with which special forces team.

Both leaders were asked about the softwood lumber dispute. Here's what Trudeau said: "For months and months, we have been preparing the meeting. And this morning, we worked very hard and we made a lot of progress, and we have showed what is at stake. A lot is at stake. And we hope that this is going to be solved shortly to help enormously not only Canadian workers and Canadian economy, but also the economy of both our countries."

And, Obama: "This issue of softwood lumber will get resolved in some fashion. Our teams are already making progress on it. It's been a longstanding bilateral irritant, but hardly defines the nature of the U.S.-Canadian relationship. And we have some very smart people, and they'll find a way to resolve it—undoubtedly, to the dissatisfaction of all parties concerned, because that's the nature of these kinds of things, right? Each side will want 100 percent, and we'll find a way for each side to get 60 percent or so of what they need, and people will complain and grumble, but it will be fine."

One answer was clear, and direct. The other just a meaningless collection of syllables.

So as we all throw up pom poms for the dawn of a new bifurcated North American love fest, let's be mindful that every bro-fest have downsides.

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