Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau gave women a seat at the table during their first meeting.
During the round table discussion with top Canadian and American female entrepreneurs including Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, they agreed to fund a committee dedicated to including women in cross-border business opportunities.
But to political strategy experts, the meeting had nothing to do with women at all.
“They were rubbing each other’s backs pretty skillfully,” Tim Powers, vice-chair of government relations firm Summa Strategies, said in an interview. And even though Trump has made comments in the past that run counter to Justin Trudeau’s self-proclaimed feminism, Trudeau wasn’t there looking for a fight.
“Trudeau was trying to send a message of ‘we are not going to walk in, pee on your rug and take down the paintings because we don’t like what you have hanging up there.'”
The original idea for the conference came from the prime minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford. When asked why the meeting was planned, the prime minister’s office reaffirmed Trudeau’s commitment to women and girls.
Ferry de Kerckhove, an international affairs professor at the University of Ottawa, believes that the prime minister wanted to do ‘something different’ for their first meeting.
“Women’s rights is easy to sell to the president,” de Kerckhove said in an interview.
“There likely won’t be a lot of meetings between Trudeau and Trump, so we wouldn’t be able to bring up women’s rights down the road.”
Trudeau’s main goal is to keep free trade with the U.S., according to Powers, but the prime minister’s stance can change with his political interest.
Watch: Justin Trudeau, Donald Trump team up to support women in the workforce
The conversation on women also distracted both leaders from trickier issues, de Kerckhove said, such as NAFTA negotiations and the flow of immigrants from the U.S. to Canada.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said Trump used Trudeau’s popularity and so-called feminism to boost his image.
“Playing the game that [Trudeau] is playing in the record of women at work with the same Donald Trump that bragged about sexually harassing women…the average Canadian will not accept this,” he told reporters in reaction to the meeting on Monday.
But others think this wasn’t the time and place to attack Trump on his comments.
“It would be impossible to think that the prime minister would call out Trump on misogyny considering the overarching economic and trade interests we have with the United States,” de Kerckhove said in an interview. “The prime minister has kept a good balance.”
For Trudeau to call Trump out on misogyny, Powers believes it would take extreme circumstances and the political gain would have to outweigh the potential fallout with the President.
“If the comments were directed at a world leader, if it’s getting closer to an election or there are more incidents of violence against women…then he might say something,” he said.
Women’s inequality still ‘prevalent’ in Canada
Trudeau has made big promises to address women’s rights in Canada by focusing on the reduction of the gender wage gap.
According to Statistics Canada, women made 87 cents to every dollar of a man’s hourly wage in 2011.
American women didn’t fare much better, making 80 cents for every dollar a male employee would make in the same job in 2015, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy research.
Trudeau’s reputation could also use a lift after Canada’s leadership in gender equality slipped to an all-time low, according to a 2016 United Nations report. While the report noted some progress on inequality, it stressed that there were still many issues facing women and girls, including a ‘high prevalence’ of violence against women in indigenous communities.
WATCH: NDP MP asks how Trudeau can meet with Trump without denouncing ‘misogynistic’ comments
To New Democrat MP and status of women critic, Sheila Malcolmson, the lack of diversity at Monday’s round table does little to bridge the gap between Trudeau’s promises and working women.
“Bringing together the working elite of white women in business will not bring about change,” she said. “There are more issues at stake for the women who haven’t made it yet.”
Laura Racon, director of policy and campaigns at Oxfam Canada, agrees.
“Entrepreneurship is only a small part of women’s work,” she said. “They did not address issues on full time employment, living wages or reproductive rights which affect more women.”
Racon says Oxfam is optimistic things will improve based on the ‘positive signals’ the Trudeau government has been giving to women’s issues.
The upcoming spring budget will determine whether or not Trudeau will keep his promises, but Malcolmson says women across the country are ‘not reassured’ the government will improve the status quo.
As for the results of the Trudeau-Trump meeting, de Kerckhove says it has potential to be more than political banter.
“The key question is whether this was a photo op for one day, or if there will be actual follow up,” he said. “This is a golden opportunity to showcase Canada’s perspective and our way of thinking on issues of importance.”
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