It ended without either one of them saying goodbye.
Barring some kind of contact within the next week, the fraught relationship between Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump is over. Unlike so many other endings in Trump’s world these days, this conclusion was a fade out, not a blow-up.
The last conversation between the two men was on Oct. 10, about a week after Trump had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and returned to work at the White House. Trudeau has not spoken to the outgoing president since — the longest stretch of silence between these leaders, even in very bad times.
No call took place to discuss Trump’s election defeat, obviously, because Trump hasn’t acknowledged it as legitimate to this day. No conversations have taken place about border issues, because the Canada-U.S. border remains closed to all but essential traffic. No talks about Canada-U.S. co-ordination on the pandemic, because Trump’s attention has been focused single-mindedly on his imminent loss of power.
So that’s it, then. All the attention and energy that Justin Trudeau and his government were forced to devote to Trump is already on its way to becoming a closed chapter in the history of Canada-U.S. relations. It ended while everyone’s attention, including that of the two leaders, was focused elsewhere in a tumultuous 2020.
One might be tempted to say Trump, we hardly knew you. But we did — very well; too well.
One clear sign that the relationship was over came last Friday, when Trudeau said explicitly that Trump had been responsible for the Jan. 6 storming of Capitol Hill in Washington. Or, as the PM put it: “an assault on democracy by violent rioters, incited by the current president.”
That’s far more incendiary language than Trudeau has customarily used toward a notoriously thin-skinned Trump.
Sources close to Trudeau say the choice of words was prompted more by the magnitude of the event in Washington than Trump’s imminent departure. But it’s also true that the PM doesn’t have to worry too much about backlash from Trump now, with his friend Joe Biden on the way into power.
Trudeau acknowledged in an interview with Reuters this week that his government is looking for a meeting to be arranged as soon as possible after the inauguration between the PM and Biden.
Canada’s prime minister was the first major world leader to congratulate Biden when his November election victory was finally confirmed days after the vote, and the first to receive a phone call from the president-elect not long afterward.
No such firsts occurred when Trump won the presidency four years ago. The president did not make Canada his first foreign trip, as has been the on-and-off tradition between our two countries, and Trudeau was only the fourth foreign leader to visit Trump in Washington after the inauguration on Feb. 13.
Could a Biden-Trudeau meeting take place before Feb. 13 this year to showcase this new, more harmonious relationship? PMO sources say that COVID is of course a major, complicating factor, along with all the political turmoil in the U.S. that is keeping the Biden team more focused on domestic politics at present than future foreign relations.
Trudeau’s officials are being far more guarded in 2021 than they were in 2017 about any outreach they’re doing with the incoming administration, as is the Biden transition team. This is because of all the controversy that Trump and his advisers attracted four years ago — including outrage from Democrats — over doing foreign relations before taking office.
It is then nearly impossible to get Trudeau’s advisers to say what exactly they are doing to co-ordinate the meeting they want to get with Biden as soon as possible.
Trudeau did tell Reuters in his interview this week that he knows what he wants to discuss with the new president: climate change and a “re-engaged” presence for the U.S. on the multilateral, global stage are top of the list.
He also talked of protecting democracy and “co-ordinating against the rise of authoritarianism,” which are presumably two topics that would have been difficult to discuss with Trump, especially after the last few months in the U.S and last week in particular.
So many things have happened since Trudeau and Trump last spoke to each other: a crucial U.S. election, a massive second wave of a pandemic, a not-so-peaceful transition and as of this week, a second impeachment.
In the grand scheme of things, a total shutdown of contact between Trump and Trudeau isn’t nation-shaking, but it is worth noting.
While momentous developments were consuming Canada and the United States, the Trump-Trudeau relationship wound to a close. May it rest in peace; the opposite condition of its short, sharp, four-year existence.