Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made clear he would not directly criticize the new controversial U.S. administration, even when pressed with hard questions on clear policy differences between him and President Donald Trump during their first meeting in Washington.
“The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves,” said Trudeau on Monday, when asked at a press conference whether Trump’s proposed moratorium on refugees had any merit on national security grounds.
“My role… is to govern in such a way that reflects Canadians’ approach and be a positive example in the world,” Trudeau said.
As expected, the issues of border security, immigration, and trade dominated the joint press conference, with both leaders sticking to their respective positions, while also emphasizing a mutual neighborly respect.
Despite the pleasantries exchanged at the White House Monday, the two remain on decidedly different pages when it comes to issues of immigration and border security. While Trump has proposed an indefinite suspension of Syrian refugee admissions as part of his sweeping executive order on immigration, the Trudeau government has welcomed about 40,000 of them since he came to power at the end of 2015.
Trump is battling to have a court reinstate his ban, which also seeks to temporarily block visitors from seven Muslim-majority nations, including Syria. Trudeau, meanwhile, earned praise from around the world for tweeting that Canada would continue to welcome asylum seekers in the face of Trump’s initial executive order.
Asked on Monday if Canada’s policy of welcoming Syrian refugees caused him to lose confidence in the security of the northern border, Trump said “you can never be totally confident” about any border. He went on to tout the “incredible efforts” by Department of Homeland Security John Kelly to meet Trump’s goal of deporting three million “undocumented immigrant criminals.”
“I’m just doing what I said I would do when we won by a very, very large electoral college vote.”
Politicians and corporate leaders in Canada had been bracing themselves for the meeting, with anxieties running high over how Canada would be affected by Trump’s promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he described during his campaign as the “worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere.”
But on Monday, Trump was far less severe, reassuring the Canadian PM that his efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement would focus largely on Mexico. He said the trade relationship between Canada and the U.S. was in a much less “severe situation” than the one the U.S. has with Mexico, which he described as “extremely unfair”.
“We will be tweaking the [Canada-U.S. trade relationship], we will be doing certain things that will be benefiting both of our countries,” he said, without providing further details.
That surely was of some comfort to Trudeau, who emphasized the importance of Canada’s trade partnership with the U.S. during the press conference. Some 35 states list Canada as their largest export market, he said, and $2 billion in trade flows between the countries on a daily basis.
“Millions of good jobs on both sides of the border depend on the smooth and easy flow of goods and services and people back and forth across our border,” he said.
Women and business
One of the most tangible actions to come out Trudeau’s’ first visit to Trump’s White House was the announcement of the Canada-United States Council for the Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders, a task force dedicated to promoting women’s roles in the workplace.
A White House official told the Associated Press that Trudeau’s office proposed the task force, and Ivanka Trump was integral to facilitating the first roundtable meeting of the group and recruiting women executives to participate.
In a statement, the prime minister’s office told VICE News today’s discussion was about how to “encourage more connectivity and business activity between women business leaders in our two countries, creating good middle class jobs on both sides of the border.”
With files from Rachel Browne