David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Sometimes PMs, Presidents Can Make All The Difference

Brandon Sun, August 21, 2017 – David McConkey

Great cover on the latest Rolling Stone, eh? There is our charismatic prime minister; the American magazine’s headline is “Justin Trudeau: Why Can’t He Be Our President?”

But this is not the first time that Americans – or Canadians – have glanced with envy across the border! And remembering some of our past leaders shows how unusual their current president is.

Of course, the offices of prime minister and president are different. And comparisons between the two tend to focus on superficial personality traits. The countries with their on-going relationship is much too complex to summarize by looking at the head of government. But comparisons can reveal a bit of insight, not to mention a bit of fun!

Let’s start in 1961. Canadians were watching the end of the creaky, cranky government of Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker. The Americans were watching the start of the new, exciting administration of President John F. Kennedy. Guess who envied whom?

Later in the ’60s, Prime Minister Lester Pearson and President Lyndon Johnson should have gotten along better. Both were interested in social change and big government programs, like civil rights and Medicare. But Pearson was critical of the War in Vietnam – not the only time that different views about war would provoke a rift between our two countries.

Who came next? We had Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. They had President Richard Milhous Nixon. Enough said!

The 1980s saw perhaps the most simpatico relationship between our two countries and our leaders. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President Ronald Reagan were a great match in personalities, politics and policies. One result: the negotiating of the Canada - U.S. free trade agreement. (Later expanded to include Mexico as NAFTA.)

And Mulroney and Reagan created the landmark acid rain treaty between the two countries. (Mulroney later was presented with an award as our “greenest” prime minister ever!)

To remember the right-wing 30 years ago is to notice how things have changed since – in both countries. Both Mulroney and Reagan were not only in favour of immigration, free trade and environmental action; but also open, cheerful and optimistic individuals.

In this century, Canadians were miffed at President George W. Bush for not giving Canada credit for the help we provided on Sept. 11. The estrangement was cemented when Prime Minister Jean Chrétien refused to join the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. Mr. Chrétien: well played, sir!

Then there was the match-up between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama. Our turn again to look enviously across the border! During that time, I reviewed in this space the book Open And Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper.

And today? We have Justin Trudeau and they have Donald Trump! And the striking contrast isn’t just between those two leaders, but also between Trump and any other prime minister or president you can think of. As well: between both our countries today compared to the pre-Trump era.

When Obama was elected, Canadian government officials worked furiously to get the new president to make Canada the destination of his first foreign trip. (U.S. presidents usually made their first trip to Mexico or Canada.) We pleaded with the U.S. to do Canada first. Our lobbying was successful: Obama came to Canada.
Do you remember that Obama visit? Back then, the U.S. was the world’s greatest country; Obama was their superstar president; and we had snagged his first trip! Harper beamed as he escorted Obama around Ottawa; Canadians basked in the bounty of charisma.

Compare that to today with President Trump! Canada was not interested in having the president visit. Who cared if Trump first went to Saudi Arabia? And you can sense this shift being permanent: we are now on a new level. Canadians won’t be concerned about America presidential visits from now on.

The U.S. is no longer the global No. 1; now, in some ways, Canada is.

“Given the facts of Trump’s America, Canada is no longer a lesser option when compared to our southern neigbour; we have instead, become the favoured destination for students, immigrants, high-tech researchers, investors and whoever else might seek opportunity, fair play and acceptance,” Maclean’s magazine recently noted. “Now, we are the world’s first choice.”
What a difference a prime minister or a president can make, eh? 

* * * *
See also: 

Takeaways From Trump’s Unbelievable Victory

We Must Resist the Trump Culture – Here's How

Prime Minister Obama?

Donald Trump: Stranger Than We Can Imagine?

Could We Have a Donald Trump in Canada?

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David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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