One of Justin Trudeau’s better moves.

It makes sense to make nice with the United States. It is surprising for many Canadians when that becomes necessary. Not since Prime Minister John Diefenbaker pissed off President John Kennedy have relations with the Americans been more in the dumpster. Not only has Prime Minister Stephen Harper been a nag about the Keystone XL pipeline but his open admiration for President Obama’s Republican opponents in Congress has hardly gone unnoticed.

The phony bonhomie played out between Harper and Obama at G-8/G-7 meetings has been shallow and forced for some time. Sure there have been other tiffs between the two countries’ leaders (Lester Pearson versus Lyndon Johnson and Pierre Trudeau versus Dick Nixon are good examples) but these tended to be quickly patched over and cordial relations continued. Fights with a neighbour are rarely productive.

Justin Trudeau noted all of this with more restraint than you would have expected. While he called Harper’s a belligerent brand of partisan politics, he used it as an example of the need for real change. He told his audience that Harper has been hectoring the Americans throughout the past decade. He explained that “Canada’s special relationship with the United States is not automatic. Like any strong relationship,” he said, “you have to put a lot of work into it.”

But Trudeau also suggested that better relations with Mexico can be a back door to relations with the U.S.A. He noted what he referred to as Harper’s “churlish” approach to Mexico. Trudeau promised to lift the visa restrictions on Mexican visitors to Canada and to work more cooperatively with Mexico. He sees Mexico as a better trade opportunity than Mr. Harper obviously has. It also makes good sense to build relations with the other smaller member of the North American Free Trade Agreement. There are times when Canada could use an ally in dealing with the United States about some aspects of the three countries’ free trade deal.

It was also good to notice that the Liberal leader had no comment on any merits of the Keystone XL pipeline. The Obama administration is well aware that the true purpose of that pipeline is to access ocean shipping capabilities on the Texas Gulf coast to send Alberta bitumen to countries around the world that do not care about the environmental damage of converting tar sands material into synthetic oil. Maybe it’s been explained to the Justin Trudeau that no matter where in the world it’s processed, it causes global warming and Canada shares the blame.

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