To hear Donald Trump tell it, Justin Trudeau got too pushy in the G7 news conference he gave after the U.S. President flew away because he “probably doesn’t know Air Force One has about 20 televisions.”
But of course Mr. Trudeau knows. Not specifically, but figuratively. Every Canadian prime minister knows an American president has access to constant information and intel no matter where he is. And every Canadian PM knows U.S. presidents have enormous power to affect Canadians’ lives, even accidentally. They don’t get to forget about that, because it’s a big part of the job.
No, if Mr. Trump really was as offended as he makes out, it wasn’t caused by a Canadian failure to realize that American eyes are watching. It came from an older, more familiar problem: The U.S. President didn’t grasp or care that there’s politics in Canada, too.
It was Mr. Trump’s own Saturday news conference that forced Mr. Trudeau to talk about sunset clauses and retaliatory tariffs, and made it mandatory to express (polite) resolve. There wasn’t really another option for a Canadian politician.
As evidence of that, just look at how politicians of all stripes, including rivals such as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, have expressed shoulder-to-shoulder support for Mr. Trudeau’s position since. They knew voters wanted them to rally round.
The U.S. President ratcheted up the Canuck-baiting Tuesday. The head of his trade council, Peter Navarro, took back his TV-talk-show assertion that “there’s a special place in hell” for Mr. Trudeau, but Mr. Trump told reporters that Mr. Trudeau’s temerity will cost Canadians a lot of money.
He complained again about the news conference Mr. Trudeau gave after the President left the Group of Seven summit early − suggesting the PM expected to sneak in pugnacious phrases while Mr. Trump was on a flight to Singapore.
“I think that Justin probably didn’t know that Air Force One has about 20 televisions,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday.
“I see the television and he’s giving a news conference about how he ‘will not be pushed around’ by the United States. And I say, ‘Push him around? We just shook hands!”’ Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump’s complaint is that Canada-U.S. discussions went well behind closed doors at the G7 meeting in La Malbaie, Que., but Mr. Trudeau made it sound different in public.
On Saturday morning, Canadian officials had also expressed a modest new feeling of optimism about talks on the North American free-trade agreement, and that that might be a way of getting an exemption to new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum.
There have been reports that Mr. Trump was upset because the President felt that after he had generously agreed to give in on a key Canadian sticking point – the U.S. demand for a sunset clause that would see NAFTA renegotiated after five years – Mr. Trudeau was talking tough. On Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau insisted the U.S. President didn’t take the sunset clause off the table.
Importantly, it was Mr. Trump who delivered a barn-burner news conference, hours before Mr. Trudeau’s. He forced the Canadian PM to react.
For one thing, Mr. Trump told the world that the U.S. and Canada were very close to agreement on a sunset clause – which, if true, would have been an embarrassing climb-down for Mr. Trudeau. Reporters rushed to ask Canadian officials about it. Mr. Trudeau had to unequivocally deny it. So he did.
Mr. Trump’s news conference was also filled with belligerent claims that he had laid down the law on trade, warning that other countries better not follow through with retaliation to his steel tariffs. That was pushy.
When it came time for Mr. Trudeau’s own G7 news conference, the question was always going to be about whether he’d back off retaliatory tariffs. Any Canadian PM would have to show some resolve – Stephen Harper might have chosen more cautious language, but he would have sent the same message. It’s just obvious Canadian politics.
No, it’s not that Mr. Trudeau didn’t understand that the U.S. President might get wind of something he said at a news conference beamed live around the world. It’s that Mr. Trump didn’t understand he put the Canadian PM in a position where he had to.