If Donald Trump was the crazy uncle he wished to see as little as possible, Joe Biden represents a return to the father figure Justin Trudeau has needed regularly in his life.
In one virtual meeting Tuesday, the two appeared to create a laundry list of initiatives longer than the four years of Trudeau-Trump talking: pandemic response, economic recovery, defence co-operation, climate change leadership, cross-border crime fighting, and commitments to science and battling systemic racism and bias in institutions, among other topics Biden’s predecessor likely never broached.
They go way back, Justin and Joe, even pre-Before Times by pandemic speak, and while Barack Obama was by far the cooler guy to hang with, Biden was the somewhat but not utterly eye-rolling elder in the room. Justin likely even learned the term “malarkey” from him and found out that a turntable was actually called a “record player” at some point in time.
Trudeau managed Trump the way a child patiently helps an adult understand how to use an iPhone, only they never were able to use FaceTime and he was into the Apple Store regularly to get the shattered screen replaced.
He must be sleeping easier knowing that the most powerful person in the world isn’t a Twitter troll that might kick him in the slats at any moment. He also must be relieved that this president reads from a script and not his subconscious.
The Joe-Justin joint appearance Tuesday wasn’t designed to resolve issues as much as it was to resolve to tackle them. The new president has a world of hurt to undo, and he started bilaterally with Canada because he knows from decades of bare-knuckled politics that coalitions create the only successes.
As Canadians we gauge our standing at times by how America views us. So, we’re back in their good books. The kooky stuff will still surface, but the guy in the White House isn’t where it will start.
The most meaningful local news to British Columbians, beyond the shared vision on sustainability, had to be Biden’s salvo at China specifically for the detention of the two Michaels, Kovrig and Spavor, perceived as retaliatory arrests for the Vancouver interception and detention in late 2018 and since of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who likely watched the cross-border leaders from her Shaughnessy home.
Yes, the president fumbled their names at his post-meeting public statement, but not his message: “Human beings are not bargaining chips.”
The mess that Trump manifested with his administrations’ order to detain Meng, in no small way as a gesture on Chinese gestures to American economic supremacy, are clearly not going to yield her liberation from Biden’s benevolence.
Indeed, Biden spoke of joint Canada-U.S. efforts to compete with China. If he has to make a choice among his two largest trading partners, you can’t imagine Biden saying there is “no clearer or more important friend” than China.
In many ways, Biden’s remarks Tuesday were more progressive than the leader a generation younger, with talk about the importance of a recovery “that benefits everyone, not just those at the top” and “doubling down on climate change.”
Trudeau tried to play a small card on energy supply by noting Saskatchewan is sending electricity to Texas in turmoil and that our country does the same regularly for Biden’s country. Which is a roundabout way of mentioning what wasn’t directly mentioned: the first-week Biden executive order to kill the Keystone XL pipeline project, a vital vein for Albertan energy into America. Another topic we wanted to hear but didn’t: when our border will reopen.
Neither leader took reporter questions, which was a new and one hopes one-time experiment in message control. Much as Trump had his entertaining, improvisational physique that built an entire journalism branch around its scrutiny, Biden seems to read more than a double-spaced single page every six months on global affairs. We could use an injection of that gravitas as our prime minister tries to fight above his weight in the world arena.
No doubt, the top news in Canada that the U.S. president might want to work with his leader to the north will register negligibly in American media. We’re used to that. We’ll take this sleepy Joe happily over the guy who kept us awake at night.
Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.