Canada-U.S. relations changed over four years with Donald Trump — Justin Trudeau and Joe Biden will find some useful lessons

Justin Trudeau was named in the international press on Saturday as one of the quickest world leaders to issue congratulations to U.S. president-elect Joe Biden.

Trudeau had no immediate plans to call outgoing president Donald Trump on Saturday, his office said. Which would make sense, given that you can’t say “sorry you lost” to a leader who doesn’t admit defeat.

The speed of Trudeau’s well wishes to Biden can probably be best explained by the fact that he’s been waiting four years to send them to a Democratic challenger for president.

Trump in the White House was definitely not Plan A for Canada in 2016. Trump’s re-election in 2020 was also Plan B, no matter how much this Canadian prime minister endeavoured these past few months to display an official stance of neutrality.

Still, odd as it may seem, the four-year gap may actually turn out to have been useful for Trudeau and the Canada-U.S. relationship under Biden.

First of all, Trudeau’s connections with Biden are arguably deeper than the ones he had with Hillary Clinton. While there’s no question that Trudeau would have worked well with a Clinton White House — certainly less tensely and chaotically than under Trump — the ties with Biden may turn out to be stronger.

Biden will presumably want to demonstrate that he’s a better friend to Canada and the world than Trump was. While Trump only grudgingly and often belatedly recognized the deep connections between Canada and the United States, Biden needs no education.

I’ve been thinking back to a trip I did to Washington in early 2004, when Paul Martin was prime minister and spoke to the Senate foreign relations committee. The top-ranking Democrat on that committee, one Joe Biden, wandered out of the room and came over to speak to the little gaggle of Canadian media waiting outside. I recall we were enormously grateful.

Biden was filled with praise for Martin and Canada. “Canada and the United States, it’s like ham and eggs. It’s kind of hard to separate them, whether we like it or not. Thank God, at least on this side, we love it,” Biden told us.

Then of course there is more recent history — Biden’s late 2016 trip to Ottawa, where he heaped praise and obligation on Trudeau, nudging him to carry the progressive torch in the world in Obama’s absence. Get ready to read a lot about that visit and Biden’s remarks in the coming days and weeks.

Trudeau will be wanting Biden to revive the tradition, scrapped under Trump, for any new U.S. president to make Canada his first foreign trip after taking power. That may well be one of the topics of their first conversation, likely to take place in the days ahead.

Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, is a U.S. political consultant who worked with Trudeau back before he became prime minister. Her old firm, Precision Strategies, won a couple of big U.S. awards for the “data and analytics strategy” it contributed to Trudeau’s winning campaign in 2015.

Chances are that O’Malley Dillon’s email inbox was getting filled on Saturday with more private congratulations from her old Liberal friends in Canada.