WASHINGTON –The first week of Donald Trump’s presidency promised Canada two bridges, one oil pipeline and a set of locks.
Mexico got a wall.
America’s two neighbours had vastly different experiences in Week 1 of the reality-TV-star’s presidency –Canada away from the spotlight, quietly hoping for the best, while Mexico featured in tension-filled plot twists.
In just a few hours Thursday, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto cancelled a planned trip to the U.S., and also promised to use his country’s 50 diplomatic buildings located on American soil to help migrants.
Then the White House appeared to retaliate with the threat of a 20-per-cent tariff on Mexican products. Trump made sure to point out, for the record, that he’d also decided to cancel the meeting.
“Unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly, with respect, meeting (Pena Nieto) would be fruitless,” Trump told a gathering of Republican lawmakers.
“I want to go a different route. We have no choice.”
An aide later said Trump is speaking to Congress about a 20-per-cent tax on Mexican imports that would collect $10 billion per year and pay for Trump’s promised wall with Mexico: “That’s really going to provide the funding,” said spokesman Sean Spicer.
Then he reportedly walked it back. According to NBC, Spicer later clarified that it was just one idea among several. Republican lawmakers cheered Trump but sat silent as he discussed the tiff with Mexico.
Tensions escalated mid-week.
It started with the president initiating the construction of a border wall and toughening immigration rules in an executive order titled, “Border Security And Immigration Enforcement Improvements.”
The order might as well have been renamed, “Southern Border Security,” because it only referred to one border. The document carried 19 references to the southern one, and zero to the northern one with Canada.
It prompted a scrap with two Mexican presidents.
While Pena Nieto refused to meet with Trump, his predecessor Vicente Fox jumped in, tweeting vulgarities at the new U.S. commander-in-chief.
That wasn’t the only drama in the opening sequence of Trump’s presidency. Multiple reports suggest he’s furious about media coverage showing his inauguration drew a smaller crowd than Barack Obama’s. He made that clear by delving deeply into the subject in his first presidential interview, with ABC.
The surprises even involved a professional golfer.
Stung by repeated references to his losing the popular vote, Trump has responded with a made-up accusation that up to five million people voted illegally. He’s aired it several times.
A report in the New York Times said Trump cited evidence to members of Congress: an anecdote from golfer Bernhard Langer, who supposedly saw suspicious-looking foreigners in line at a polling station.
The anecdote’s provenance is very much in doubt. First of all, the German golfer is not a U.S. citizen and cannot vote. In a statement Thursday, Langer explained that he’d told the story to a friend; the friend told someone at the White House; and someone told Trump.
It was far less dramatic in Calgary.
As continental relations veered badly off the rails down south, Canada’s cabinet was meeting, fittingly, in a historic railroad hotel. A White House adviser attended the meeting to reassure Canadians that they would fare well under Trumpian economics.
It was during that meeting that Trump announced plans to advance the Keystone XL pipeline.
That wasn’t the only Canada news this week. The McClatchy newspaper chain reported that Trump’s White House team presented U.S. governors with a list of 50 infrastructure priority projects.
McClatchy published the document online. It included the new Detroit-Windsor bridge, the refurbishment of the Peace Bridge and of the Soo Locks on the Great Lakes – all of which were in the works before Trump took office, but which appeared in the slideshow presented to the Nationals’ Governors Association.
The Canadian government, meanwhile, was wrestling with its own concerns.
They include such questions that could move the tension-fuelled Trump drama to northward, such as: What does Trump want in NAFTA? Will he hold out for tough conditions before approving Keystone, as he’s suggested?
Would that threatened border penalty against Mexico wind up boomeranging across the continent? Spicer’s comments on the tariff were actually quite vague, and referred to a more widespread tax on imports.
Finally, the Canadian government weighed a big question involving Mexico: Will NAFTA remain a three-country trade agreement, or break down into one-on-one deals between the parties?
Canada’s government suggested it could live with either.
Justin Trudeau avoided being pulled into the Mexican-American drama. Asked repeatedly by reporters about the tiff Thursday, the prime minister stayed out of it.
“In any discussions and negotiations there are moments when things go well. There are moments when things are a little more challenging,” Trudeau replied.
“We continue to have a positive, engaged, open lines of communication both with the Americans and the Mexican government as well.”