For many Canadians the news they woke up to from across the pond in London was difficult to fathom. Another global scandal putting Canada in the headlines? Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, sipped on a cold drink and was burned by a hot mic.
Trudeau was caught on camera at a Buckingham Palace reception for NATO seemingly trash talking President Donald Trump. On the video, where audio is heard intermittently, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asks French President Emmanuel Macron, “Is that why you were late?”
But it is Trudeau who interrupts to say, “He was late because he takes a … 40-minute press conference at the top.”
And Trudeau goes on from there, hands gesturing, mouth grinning. You get the picture, and so did news streams and social media feeds around the world.
The slight did not go unnoticed by Trump, who called Trudeau “two-faced.”
But it was his son, Donald Trump Jr., who picked up on his father’s turn of phrase on Twitter, tweeting a picture of Trudeau dressed in blackface, referring to a scandal earlier this year when it was revealed that the Prime Minister had worn racist makeup several times.
Trump Jr. writes, “As usual @realDonaldTrump is 100% right!!! Trump calls Trudeau ‘two-faced’ see evidence below,” referring to a photo of Trudeau wearing blackface when he was teacher nearly two decades ago.
For his part Trudeau did not apologize to Trump but said, “Last night, I made a reference to the fact that there was an unscheduled press conference before my meeting with President Trump and I was happy to take part of it, but it was certainly notable.”
Canadian officials traveling with the Prime Minister tell CNN the cocktail conversation was taken out of context and Trudeau was merely telling fellow colleagues about his day.
But Canada’s Conservative opposition leader, Andrew Scheer, said there was no excuse for such a mistake in front of a global audience.
“Justin Trudeau’s poor judgment, lack of professionalism and love of drama continues to weaken Canada’s position on the world stage,” Scheer said during a speech to Conservative members of parliament.
New Democratic Party opposition leader Jagmeet Singh repeated a criticism of Trudeau first heard during the blackface scandal and seemed to subtly agree with Trump on the Prime Minister’s character.
“What I’ve said often about Mr. Trudeau is that he certainly says some things in public and then says things very differently in private,” said Singh, speaking to reporters outside the room where his caucus met on Wednesday.
Reaction among Canadians was mixed both online and in interviews, while opinion columnists debated whether it would have any effect on US-Canada relations going forward.
Referring to Trump’s “two-faced” jibe, Globe & Mail newspaper opinion writer Lawrence Martin writes, “Insults between great friends and allies don’t get much nastier than this. In fact, it is arguably the worst insult a President has ever issued to a PM, a broadside more penetrating than Donald Trump’s calling Justin Trudeau ‘very dishonest and weak’ after the June, 2018, G7 summit in Quebec.”
But he also notes that former President Richard Nixon was apparently caught on tape in the 1970s referring to Trudeau’s father, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre, as “that a**hole Trudeau.”
US-Canada relations spectacularly survived that fractious relationship. But with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal yet to be ratified and a continuing dispute with China over the arrest of a Huawei executive and the detention of two Canadians in retaliation, Trudeau needs to be able to depend on the President more than ever.
Toronto Star national columnist Susan Delacourt tweeted, “OK. I’ll say it: What’s so wrong about laughing at @realDonaldTrump?” and wrote in her column, “Did you hear the one about the world leader behaving badly at a NATO summit? In what truly is a sign of just how much Donald Trump has disrupted the rules of political diplomacy in three tumultuous years in office, the punchline to that joke is not Donald Trump.”
Canadian officials speaking to CNN stressed that despite the viral moment, the meeting was “good and substantive” with discussions about the USMCA and – of particular importance – they say Trump agreed to help Trudeau secure the release of the two Canadians held in China.