Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau are even. The United States’ president blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, and Canada’s new prime minister announced we would quit U.S.-led bombing in Syria and Iraq. Apparently, there are no hard feelings. In November, the two men joked on the sidelines of a summit in Asia about the inevitable salting of Trudeau’s hair and the fleeting optimism of youth. Obama said his wife, Michelle, was keen to meet fellow fashionista Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau. He invited the prime minister to visit the White House in early 2016.
If Trudeau is looking for a playbook on how to conduct relations with his country’s largest trading partner, he could study his predecessor’s approach and do the opposite. Stephen Harper’s handling of relations with the U.S. was inexcusably bad. His fatal mistake was conflating the interests of one company—TransCanada Corp.—and the interests of his country. Harper appeared to take Obama’s misgivings about TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline personally, adopting increasingly snide and antagonistic rhetoric on the subject. He wrongly assumed Democratic legislators would be cowed by the argument that Keystone would create jobs, missing the growing influence of rich donors intent on making the party greener. And, finally, Harper refused to bargain, insisting approval of Keystone was a “no-brainer.”
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