The “bro-mance” between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former president Barack Obama sparked much admiration, mockery and even a CNN highlight reel.
Though born ten years apart, the charismatic pair had instant chemistry and their year or so of overlapping leadership was productive and harmonious.
As history would have it, in the 2015 election, Trudeau had replaced a dull but efficient conservative as prime minister; in 2017, Obama handed over the White House to a nominal conservative of a very different stripe.
With the Trump reign coming to an end, you can almost hear the sighs of relief echoing from the corridors of power in Ottawa to the banks of the Potomac.
While countless world leaders have been on the receiving end of the defeated president’s insulting tweets, Trudeau, the leader of America’s top trading partner and steadfast ally, had to endure some particularly demeaning jabs. Perhaps the lowest was fired while Trump was aboard Air Force 1 on the way from the 2018 G7 summit in Quebec to a date with Kim Jong-Un, with Trump calling Trudeau “dishonest and weak.”
(Incidentally, Trump’s calamitous one-day visit to the G7 was the president’s one and only official visit to Canada during his four years in office.)
Such trash talk is not likely to come from the incoming president nor his team. In fact, official Ottawa may be uttering, “now where were we before we were so rudely interrupted four years ago?”
Trudeau may not have been as tight with vice-president Joe Biden as he was with Obama, but the two had a special bonding moment. Ironically, it was almost exactly four years ago when Biden made a two-day trip to Ottawa as part of a lame-duck Obama administration farewell tour.
Reading between the diplomatic lines, the subtext of Biden’s visit was ostensibly to reassure Canada it could and would survive a Trump presidency. He was, however, certainly telegraphing an alert to official Ottawa when, speaking at a dinner in his honour, he said Canadians and Americans share “the abhorrence of the abuse of power – whether it’s physical, economic, or political, as well as the notion that every single woman and man deserves to be treated with dignity.”
In that same dinner speech, Biden recalled how Trudeau’s father Pierre, prime minister in 1972, had “reached out and commiserated with me about the loss of my wife and daughter.”
Biden then said his father had told him “the mark of a successful father is when you turn and look at your child you realize they turned out better than you.” He paused, and added, “I’m a successful father,” then looking at Trudeau, said “your father was extremely successful.”
That reference was infinitely more emotional knowing Biden’s son Beau, his hope to achieve his own ambition of the presidency, had died from brain cancer the year before.
No one in that room on a snowy December evening, certainly not Biden himself, would have dared speculate that such a near tragic figure would, a tumultuous four years hence, achieve the ambition he had for his own son.
Based on this proxy father-son relationship, there may or may not be a lot of meaning to be read into the fact the first world leader to call Biden once it was clear he had defeated Trump was Trudeau.
The official readout of the call on Nov. 9 doesn’t hint at any special warmth between the two, but spelled out the issues facing both countries “including trade, softwood lumber, Buy America, and energy cooperation such as Keystone XL.”
The latter pipeline project may be the rare bilateral issue where Biden might not feel the love and gratitude from all of Canada. Biden has said he will rescind permits Trump has approved.
The project to transport Alberta oil to refineries on the U.S. east coast is seen as a lifeline for Canada’s struggling energy sector.
That said, whatever differences there may be between the Biden administration and Canada, they won’t be handled with a war of tweets. It also can’t hurt that Biden’s campaign manager and now deputy chief of staff, Jen O’Malley Dillon, was a consultant for Trudeau’s triumphant 2015 campaign.
By all indications, Canada and the United States will pick up – diplomatically – where they left off four years ago.