How Important is the PM/Potus Relationship?

Last week Prime Minister Trudeau and his wife Sophie returned from their first state visit to Washington to meet with President Obama and First lady Michelle. Since their return, it seems as though Canadians everywhere are gleaming at the prospects of a new and fruitful bromance between the two heads of state.

Maybe all the excitement came from the fact that the state visit tradition played out with a fresh face finally after Harper’s fifteen year residency as Prime Minister. In fact, despite meeting with one another at global summits, Obama never invited Harper for a formal visit. Despite that fact, I don’t think anyone who supported the Harper government really cared. This begs the question, why was it such a big deal when Trudeau got a golden ticket, and what does a good PM/POTUS relationship mean for Canada?

The tradition of Canadian state visits to Washington date back to 1927, when the United States began hosting one official Canadian visit per decade on average. Putting aside all the pomp and circumstance, red carpets and designer gowns for a moment, an invitation for a State Visit is probably the highest diplomatic honour there is. The State Dinner that was hosted on Thursday was hosted in Trudeau’s honour and that’s not something any head of state, Canadian or otherwise, should take lightly. Despite being a gesture of good faith from a diplomatic standpoint, the President is never obliged to host an official visit, and the fact that he would, is a sign of recognition and respect. 

Also, lets not dance around the issue, Trudeau and Obama are both good looking characters. On top of being ascetically pleasing, they both have personalities that ooze charisma, wit and charm. All traits that breed desirability and a touch of jealousy. Watching those two walk around must have been like watching those cool kids in high school. They always seemed to move in slow motion for some reason, and you secretly hated them for being so cool, but you also wanted to be best friends with them for the same reason. The same cannot be said of former Prime Minister Harper, whose disposition was almost always on a Ben Carson level of un-enthused.

Trudeau and Obama are also both liberal politicians and therefore were likely to have more policy similarities right off the bat. It is always going to be easier to discuss politics with someone whose sitting in the same aisle as you, and not on the other side. It should come as no surprise that Democratic POTUS’ have had the best relationships with Liberal PM’s and vice versa. Both have made a strong stance to battle climate change and they have both taken pledges to aid in the Syrian refugee crisis. While climate change was clearly the spotlight issue throughout the visit, the five Cabinet Ministers that accompanied Trudeau implies that discussions about bilateral trade and military action in Syria was most likely on the docket as well.

With all that being said, it is important to note that Trudeau did not ignore the fact that Obama sits in a Republican controlled Congress, and therefore took the time to meet with the Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell.

Although, if history tells us anything, its that PM/POTUS relationships haven’t been without mishaps and faux-pas. In the early 1960’s former Prime Minister Diefenbaker and President Kennedy had an infamously bad relationship. Kennedy would often ‘accidentally’ mispronounce Diefenbaker’s name, blaming it on his strong New England accent. Kennedy took the opinion that his northern ally was a grumpy old man and in turn Diefenbaker openly referred to Kennedy as ‘a young hot headed fool.’

Even more juicy was the condemning speech former Prime Minister Pearson gave about the Vietnam War while in Washington. The aftermath was a livid President Johnson, lifting the Prime Minister up by his lapels and yelling the famous line, “YOU PISSED ON MY RUG!”

In the 1970’s, when it was revealed that President Nixon called Justin’s father an asshole, the former Prime Minister replied, “I’ve been called worse things by better people.”

And in a moment in which I am sure a lot of Canadians would like to forget, during a visit to Ottawa, Prime Minister Mulroney serenaded President Reagan with the song “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.”

And the end of the day, a good PM/POTUS relationship depends on the potential chemistry of the two individuals, but if there isn’t much there to begin with, there is not a lot either party can do to change that. Prime Ministers and Presidents do not have to be friends, but as the elected leaders of their respected states, they have a responsibility to their citizens to act responsibly and professionally. After all, ‘you do not have to like your co-workers, but you have to work with them’ is a rule that applies to them the same as anybody else. The world will not end if the Prime Minister and President are not particularly fond of one another, history clearly shows us that, but good relationships like the one we are seeing in Trudeau and Obama does propagate advantageous agreements for both nations like the Softwood Lumbar Agreement or NAFTA.

Judging by the State Visit, Trudeau and Obama mesh really well with each other and Canadians have every right to look forward to what prosperity that may bring to their country.

Long live Trubama.




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