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Before the Smiles, Mounting Tensions Between Trudeau and Trump

Before the Smiles, Mounting Tensions Between Trudeau and Trump

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President Trump was greeted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, after arriving in Canada on Friday for the Group of 7 summit meeting.CreditEvan Vucci/Associated Press

LA MALBAIE, Quebec — Hours before President Trump landed in Canada on Friday, 18-year-old allegations that Justin Trudeau once groped a reporter resurfaced on a website sympathetic to the president.

Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

But it only added to the mounting tensions between Mr. Trudeau, now the Canadian prime minister, and Mr. Trump as the president arrived for the Group of 7 summit meeting that had become so fractured before it started that many observers were calling it the “G-6 plus 1” — with Mr. Trump being cast as the irrational, irascible and dangerous outsider.

When the two leaders finally met on the grounds of a grand Quebec hotel on Friday, they had a brief, cordial exchange and made no show of the antagonism between them that has grown over the past week. Instead, Mr. Trudeau gave his telegenic smile, and Mr. Trump gave a thumbs up for the cameras.

It has always been an article of faith that maintaining good ties with the United States was essential for Canada, but with Mr. Trump’s imposition of tariffs and unfounded accusations of 200-year-old acts of aggression by Canada against the United States, Canada’s priorities have changed. Now Mr. Trudeau will be expected to protect not only the economy of Canada, but also its dignity.

And with the victory on Thursday of a Conservative candidate in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, Mr. Trudeau is about to face new domestic challenges. Doug Ford, who has been called Canada’s Trump and is now the premier-elect of Ontario, has vowed to attack one of Mr. Trudeau’s signature policies — climate change regulations.

“Trudeau finds himself in a very challenging and difficult situation,” said Louis Bélanger, director of the Institute for International Studies at Laval University in Quebec City. “We wish him good luck.”

The Group of 7 meeting, set in La Malbaie, on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, 90 miles northeast of Quebec City, is the occasion for Mr. Trump’s first official visit to Canada, which he announced he would cut short.

By the time the president’s helicopter arrived at the meeting site, the leaders had already exchanged loaded messages in the continuation of a trade war, set off by Mr. Trump last month, when he imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Canada and other allies.

Mr. Trudeau suggested on Thursday that the tariffs were not smart because they would hurt American consumers, drawing a response on Twitter from Mr. Trump, who called Mr. Trudeau “indignant” and a hypocrite, “bringing up the relationship that the U.S. and Canada had over the many years and all sorts of other things … but he doesn’t bring up the fact that they charge us up to 300% on dairy — hurting our Farmers, killing our Agriculture!”

Across the country, Canadians reacted with both incredulity and horror, as almost three-quarters of the country’s exports go directly across the southern border and any trade war begun by the United States would cause huge damage.

“We are in the eye of the storm,” said Janice Stein, the founding director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. “The direction of the Canadian economy and national interest are now at stake. There is grave danger to this country like never happened before.”

Others worried that the fury over trade would swamp every other issue on the leaders’ agenda, particularly women’s advancement and a commitment to remove plastics from the ocean.

However, when Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump met with reporters during a break in the afternoon’s program, they seemed friendly and jovial, cracking dark-humor jokes about their differences.

“Justin has agreed to cut all tariffs,” Mr. Trump said, to which Mr. Trudeau responded, “I’d say Nafta is in good shape,” a reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mr. Trump characterized their relationship as “very good” and then “probably better, as good or better, as it’s ever been.”

“We’re actually working on cutting tariffs and making it all very fair for both countries,” he said. “And we’ve made a lot of progress today. We’ll see how it all works out.”

Since Mr. Trump took office, Mr. Trudeau has employed a charm offensive, working to maintain close relations with the president, but also sending an army of negotiators across the border to shore up support for Nafta and try to contain Mr. Trump’s protectionist and nationalist impulses.

Called the “doughnut strategy,” Mr. Trudeau’s campaign seemed to be working until the end of last month.

In response, Mr. Trudeau pushed back for the first time, with punitive tariffs of his own on American imports worth $ 12.8 billion, and Canadians largely applauded.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Canadian government would not back down. “But we say that with great sadness,” she said. She added that history had shown, for G-7 countries in particular, “we are most successful, and prosperous and safe, when we all grow together.”

On the eve of the summit meeting, a 2000 editorial resurfaced from a small British Columbia newspaper admonishing Mr. Trudeau for what it said was “inappropriately ‘handling’” of a female reporter, creating one more fire Mr. Trudeau had to douse.

First posted on social media by a well-known critic of Mr. Trudeau, it was then picked up by some American news outlets, including Breitbart, which is run by ideological champions of Mr. Trump. Mr. Trudeau’s office strongly denied any wrongdoing on the part of the prime minister, who is an outspoken feminist and had put gender equality and women’s empowerment near the top of the issues he hoped to promote during the summit meeting.

The current publisher of the newspaper, the Creston Valley Advance, said the paper was not in a position to “confirm or deny” any of its substance.

If any place could soothe the tempers of the leaders, it would be the site of the summit meeting. With the site’s rolling forests that meet the tidal waters of the St. Lawrence River, it was easy to see why the sleepy village of La Malbaie was once a vacation spot for Hollywood stars and American presidents alike. (President William Howard Taft owned a luxurious villa here.)

A giant fence was installed around the meeting site, and at its base on the water’s edge, the town set a small “free speech zone” for protesters, but it remained as languid as the rest of town. When meetings were beginning in earnest, reporters outnumbered a handful of North Korean defectors who had come from Toronto to protest Mr. Trump’s coming meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, whom they called a “murderer and dictator.”

“The stress levels aren’t on the outside of the G-7,” joked Mayor Michel Couturier of La Malbaie, who is still hopeful the meeting will buff some of the town’s former tourism luster. “It’s mostly inside the G-7 red zone.”

Dan Bilefsky contributed reporting from Montreal, and Ian Austen from Ottawa.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A9 of the New York edition with the headline: Before the Smiles, Tensions Between Trudeau and Trump. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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