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Trudeau embarks on New York charm offensive as United Nations fixates on Trump

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland looks on as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during a panel discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
September 25, 2018 - 1:30 PM

NEW YORK - Canada embarked on a high-level Big Apple charm offensive of sorts Tuesday as U.S. President Donald Trump barrelled into the UN General Assembly with his trademark bombast and braggadocio, singing the praises of his protectionist "America First" agenda to decidedly mixed reviews.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and lieutenants Chrystia Freeland and Jim Carr began their day far from the gridlock and diplomatic mayhem of Trump Day at the United Nations, choosing instead to wave the Canadian flag at an early-morning gathering of the Council on Foreign Relations.

And while the divisive U.S. president was never mentioned by name, his larger-than-life impact was ever-present Tuesday, whether in the chaotic New York traffic, the must-see-TV vibe of his General Assembly speech or in the vision spelled out by Canada's leaders.

For the better part of the last 70 years, the United States has taken a leadership role in overseeing and managing the global world order that emerged from the ashes of the Second World War, a job for which Freeland made a point of thanking the well-heeled, baby-boomer audience.

"That was an era of clear American leadership," Freeland said.

"Our reflection in Canada... is that we observe that Americans — and I'm talking also about regular people, the people who vote — are starting to say, 'You know what, maybe that mantle of leadership is too heavy for us; maybe we're not so ready to keep on doing it.'"

Much of that anxiety and insecurity stems from lingering doubt about the future, in particular how technology is hollowing out the traditional job market and leaving an increasing number of people in the Western world on the outside looking in, Trudeau added.

"As leaders we have to make a decision: do we see those fears and choose to amplify them for short-term gains, or do we say, 'We can solve this if we work together,'" he said.

"That choice between choosing to augment insecurities and amplify them, versus saying, 'We got this together,' is one of the starkest contrasts we can see in political discourse today."

Just two hours later, Exhibit A strolled to the rostrum in the main UN assembly hall and gave his unique brand of leadership a rousing endorsement, evoking laughter at one point from the normally staid gathering of dignitaries and heads of state.

"In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country," Trump said, prompting a round of chuckles and head-shaking that appeared to catch him off-guard.

"I didn't expect that reaction," he said. "But that's OK."

Before long, the president was repeating a familiar message about his government's efforts to renegotiate "broken" and "terrible" trade deals, although he did not specifically reference Canada or the ongoing talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer offered clues earlier Tuesday about how that process is going.

"I think the U.S. would like (Canada) to be in the agreement, but there's a still a fair amount of distance between us," Lighthizer told a conference taking place on the fringes of the General Assembly.

"There are a number of significant issues between us... I think Canada wants to do it, I know we want to do it, and we'll see what happens. We're sort of running out of time."

At some point this week, Lighthizer and Freeland are expected to sit down to continue in person the "continuous negotiation" that has been going on for the last month, sometimes by phone or email, other days in person at Lighthizer's office in Washington.

For her part, Freeland was keeping close-mouthed about the state of the talks, repeating her familiar mantra that the two sides "don't negotiate in public."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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