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  • Roland Paris

Interview with CBC "As It Happens" on Trudeau-Trump meeting, February 13, 2017

JD: So that was U.S. president Donald Trump speaking at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this afternoon in Washington. Roland Paris is the PM's former Foreign Policy adviser. We reached Mr. Paris in Ottawa.

HM: Roland Paris, What do you read into what President Trump had to say about the U.S. relationship with Canada?

ROLAND PARIS: Well overall, I think it was a very, very positive message for Canada coming from the president today. What he was effectively saying was that he is that he sees the Canada U.S. economic relationship is one that is in America's interest, and that's not the way that he's been describing his America trade relations with other countries. Now there have been indications of this before, of this positive view, but it's quite different to hear it so clearly from the President himself.

HM: But you have to think that everyone in that government in Ottawa is thinking what does the tweak mean?

RP: Yeah, I think it is a question mark. And if the tweak refers to some of the initiatives that were described in the joint statement that they also released today, then that’s fine. There were some positive tweaks that Canada would like to see. More pre-clearance of cargo for example, so that cargo can be cleared across the border before it actually gets to the border. If it refers to something else, it would be good to know. But I really do think that the overall outcome of today is that Donald Trump sees Canada as being inside the tent, and that’s very good news if the United States proceeds with any broad protectionist strategies in the world.

HM: You have described Mr. Trump's allies as being one tweet away from a crisis. How high were the stakes going into this meeting?

RP: The stakes were extremely high for Canada. It's just one meeting, and the government and the Prime Minister will have to remain vigilant and ready to vigorously defend Canada's interests. But it was an important meeting, first meeting between the face to face meeting between the two men. Of course the stakes are enormous for Canada because of the economic relationship we have with the United States. And politically, they were very significant for Mr. Trudeau too, and balancing the articulation and defense of Canadian values with the building of a businesslike and constructive relationship with our principal trading partner and our closest ally, that's not easy and I think that what we saw today was very encouraging.

HM: You've been in meetings between the Prime Minister and foreign heads of state before. Give us a sense of the strategy that the Prime Minister was trying to effect here and how he achieved it. I mean you've alluded to it already, but it's a really fine line when you're dealing with this administration.

RP: I think it is, and it will require adjustments and calibration going forward. You know, the strategy is visible for everyone to see. Shortly after Donald Trump was elected, senior officials close to Justin Trudeau made communication links with people, senior officials to Donald Trump during the transition period. They sent a high level friend of Donald Trump from the administration to the cabinet retreat in Calgary. Canadian cabinet ministers began meeting with their cabinet secretary counterparts. Canada began activating allies at all levels of the U.S. political system to communicate one message and that is that the United States has an interest itself in this bilateral economic partnership with Canada because it supports millions of jobs on U.S. side of the border. And I think the ultimate sign of success today was that that language was actually in Donald Trump's remarks and in the statement that both leaders put out. So a lot of preparation for today's meeting, and I think, so far so good.

HM: When the issue of refugees and migration came up, the Prime Minister said that it wasn't his place to go to the United States and lecture the government on how to behave. There are going to be people who think that that Justin Trudeau did not go far enough there, that that was, if not a cowardly way, then at least a less focused way than they might have hoped.

RP: I think that it was fascinating to see the two men in that part of the press conference essentially laying out two very different narratives about immigration and refugees. And during a press conference, the media invited both of them to criticize each other and they declined to do so. But they both did vigorously reaffirm their points of view, and what the Prime Minister said was that Canadians expect them to govern in a way that reflects Canadian values and that can provide a positive model to the world. And I think that this is going to be a balancing act for Justin Trudeau, for his government, it is for many countries and I think that he performed very well today. His position was perfectly clear. He was suggesting he intends to continue with his policies as they are, and the implicit rebuke is that you know he was articulating a vision of openness standing next to Donald Trump in the White House.

HM: Much has being made of the fact of what's missing. I gather, rather than what is contained in that to communiqué that they released. No mention of NAFTA, before they were asked about it by reporter, references to NATO and cooperation, talking about Latvia but not mentioning Ukraine. What do you take from what we don't see in that document?

RP: I would have to study the document more closely. These documents are negotiated in the period before the meeting. The actual exchange between leaders is something that is scripted. They come in with the point they want to make, anticipating what the other might say, and the conversation goes in whatever direction it goes. When I took a quick glance at the communiqué, what I saw was a pretty traditional articulation of Canada U.S. commitments, and the emphasis on jobs for the middle class, infrastructure, investment. What I saw was an attempt to identify areas of mutual interests and really highlight them, and I think that the broader point here is that this is just one meeting, but both men seem determined to make this a meeting that's communicated cooperation. I think they succeeded in that.

HM: Roland Paris, thank you very much for talking to us.

RP: Thank you. Bye-bye.

HM: Bye.

JD: Roland Paris teaches International Security and Governance at the University of Ottawa. He's also a former foreign policy advisor to the Prime Minister. We reached Roland Paris in Ottawa.

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