Former prime minister Stephen Harper says Canadian leaders have to find a way to get along with U.S. President Donald Trump because of Canada’s “overwhelming” dependence on the U.S. as an economic and geopolitical partner.
Harper made his remarks during a panel session with former British prime minister Tony Blair at the Raisina Dialogue, a geopolitical summit held in New Delhi and sponsored by the Indian government, on Tuesday.
“Every year, I would go to New York on business and [Trump] was on a list of people that asked to meet me but we never actually met,” Harper said when asked about his impressions of Trump. “But I know many of the people around him, I think I’ve got a pretty good picture.”
Without mentioning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by name, Harper said he believes it’s important that “a smart Canadian prime minister” gets a few things right when dealing with the American president.
“First of all, he establishes — to the best of his ability — a good personal relationship with the president of the United States, regardless of that president’s personality or political party,” said Harper.
“Secondly, a smart prime minister of Canada — because we can often be off the radar in Washington — goes out of his way to show when we are onside with the United States how we can be a useful partner in furthering the United States’ global role because that’s ultimately in our interests.
“If you do those two things correctly, that is the basis on which you can then respectfully disagree when you need to.”
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Trump and some of his aides have hurled insults at Trudeau during testy trade talks over the past year.
Following the G7 summit last summer, Trump described Trudeau’s behaviour as “meek and mild” and accused Trudeau of making “false statements” at a press conference.
In the days that followed, Trump’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow told CNN that Trudeau “stabbed us in the back,” while trade advisor Peter Navarro told Fox News that there’s a “special place in hell” for Trudeau, who he accused of engaging in “bad-faith diplomacy.”
Trump has occasionally used Trudeau’s first name derisively, slamming “Justin” in a series of tweets in the wake of the G7 summit.
In November, Trudeau used a press conference with Trump to encourage “Donald” to drop tariffs on steel and aluminum.
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Harper said at the summit that the majority of Canada’s trade is with the U.S. while Canada’s “security and values interests” are linked to America’s, making it important for the two countries to maintain a strong relationship.
The Conservative former prime minister also met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and presented Modi with a copy of his new book.
The pair “exchanged views on developments in India-Canada relations, main global trends and cooperation among democracies,” Modi’s office said in a statement.
Harper also heaped praise on “my friend” Modi, calling him “the most significant leader of India since Independence.”
Harper’s visit to India comes three months after Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s trip to the South Asian country, which Scheer said he used to pitch Canadian oil and foreign policy cooperation to Modi.
It also comes less than a year after Trudeau’s troubled state visit to India.
Trudeau’s trip was marred by the invitation of convicted attempted murderer Jaspal Atwal to official events, with the National Security and Intelligence Committee issuing a report last month blaming several failings in the government’s vetting system for guest lists on foreign visits.
Security sources told Global News’ Ottawa bureau chief Mercedes Stephenson that they believed the Prime Minister’s Office redacted the report to try and transfer the blame for security lapses to the RCMP, CSIS and other intelligence agencies.