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Five things to watch for as PM meets Trump, congressional leaders in Washington

Last Updated Jun 20, 2019 at 5:44 am EDT

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Wednesday June 19, 2019 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is spending the day in Washington for a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House and face time with congressional leaders from the Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Here are five things to watch for:

1. Working towards certainty on continental trade uncertainty

Trump foisted an acrimonious renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Canada and Mexico, and after more than year of hard-fought bargaining, everyone survived. The leaders of the three countries signed the deal late last year, but final legal ratification remains a significant hurdle — especially in the U.S. Trump has insulted House Leader Nancy Pelosi, who essentially holds the cards on ratification. But Trump’s trade czar Robert Lighthizer has been repeatedly complimentary of her efforts to find solutions. Trudeau will likely seek to persuade Pelosi that if the deal is good enough for Liberals in Canada, perhaps the Democrats in the U.S. can swallow it too. We likely won’t know for weeks how successful Trudeau will be. But one test will be whether the matter moves through Congress before the end of July, when it adjourns for the summer.

2. Helping two Canadians in big trouble in China

Two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have been languishing behind bars in China for more than six months. Their arrest is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an American extradition warrant. Chinese leaders have snubbed Trudeau and his cabinet ministers, but Trump has been playing hardball with the People’s Republic in an escalating trade war that is rocking the global economy. During a visit to Ottawa last month, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said Trump will push Chinese President Xi Jinping for their release at the G20 leaders’ summit in Japan next week. Will Trump tip his hand about doing Trudeau a favour?

3. Winning in the eyes of Canadians

Managing relations with the United States, Canada’s largest trading partner, neighbour, close friend and ally is arguably one of the most important jobs of a prime minister. Trudeau has had a rough time with Trump, to put it mildly. Trump insulted him over Twitter after leaving the G7 in Quebec last year, and he imposed punishing steel and aluminum tariffs on Canadian imports as a bargaining chip in the NAFTA talks. All of that would seem to be history. The subtexts, the body language the words, each interaction between the two men will be under scrutiny when they shake hands and trade remarks in the Oval Office. What matters for Trudeau — and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer — is how Canadians interpret that when they go to the polls in October.

4. Huawei, or not Huawei

The Trump administration is clear: the Chinese telecom giant is a national security threat and won’t be supplying any of the equipment for America’s next generation 5G network. The Trump administration doesn’t want Canada or its allies using Huawei either. The Trudeau government is taking its time deciding. Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale have repeatedly said they will make an evidence-based decision on the advice of their national security experts. That likely won’t come before the October election, however. Trump will push the issue with Trudeau when they talk in private. In public, expect nothing to change.

5. That’s the way the basketball bounces

In addition to trying to work to salvage the North American economy, protect jobs and bring certainty back to big business planning, Trudeau will have the opportunity to gloat with Pelosi for winning his bet on the NBA Finals that saw the Toronto Raptors defeat her home-state Golden State Warriors. Will Trudeau pop the cork on the nice bottle of California wine he is likely to receive? More importantly, perhaps, will Trump give any hint that he plans to invite the champions to the White House, in keeping with what is now an often-controversial tradition?

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press