On the road again

3 minute read

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is travelling to Europe this week to attend the G7 meeting hosted by the United Kingdom on Friday. He will also participate in the NATO Summit, followed by the Canada-European Union Summit in Belgium. This will be the Prime Minister’s first overseas trip since the start of the pandemic 14 months ago. Will he bring Canadians back a souvenir of hope with an announcement on vaccine passports or will he land in hot water bypassing the government’s-imposed hotel quarantine?

With international travel banned for Canadians, many risk/reward scenarios would have been taken into account by the prime minister’s team before accepting an in-person invitation, including:

  • Agenda being ‘on brand’: With UK PM Boris Johnson using the G7 meetings to “build back better” from COVID-19 and “create a greener, more prosperous future,” the agenda is on brand for the Trudeau government. It is an opportunity to flaunt their budget and the work the Liberals are doing to combat the she-cession and climate change.
  • One of two virtual attendees: Attending the meetings in-person avoids any distractions or process stories about why Canada is not in attendance and criticisms directed at Canada’s COVID-19 response compared to other G7 countries. At this point, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the only world leader attending virtually due to the ongoing outbreak in India.
  • Reassert himself as prime ministerial: Canada’s leaders have always used international visits and elbow rubbing photo-ops to showcase themselves as prime ministerial. It is an advantage over their opposition counterparts and typically comes with a bump in the polls. With all signs pointing to a late summer or early fall election, Trudeau’s campaign team will take any help they can get to return to majority government status. Of course, they say they do not want an election, but who schedules farewell speeches for MPs not seeking re-election if they are planning for the House to return in September?

With a return to normal on the horizon, discussions on safe travel corridors and vaccine passports or certifications will be on the minds of all G7 observers. It is a priority for UK PM Boris Johnson who has stated that his goal is to get a deal on vaccine passports on the weekend. Unfortunately, a deal may be a challenge with Prime Minister Trudeau who has already stated publicly that it is too early to discuss international travel.

In addition to any discussions on vaccine passports, North Americans will be watching for any bilateral conversations between United States President Joe Biden and Trudeau on the reopening of the 49th parallel. Northern representatives on both sides of the aisle in the United States have ramped up their calls for President Biden to open the border unilaterally on June 21st. Trudeau insisted earlier this week that he would not be rushed into the border reopening, but that stance could change with provinces delivering their reopening plans and the prospects of a second lost summer for a hospitality/tourism industry on the brink. The Liberal government will take a cautious approach knowing that a fourth wave caused by laxed border restrictions could be detrimental to their election plans.Attending the G7 meetings can be a home run for Trudeau, especially if he can deliver some semblance of hope to Canadians looking for any hints on the reopening of the US border. However, it can quickly turn into a swing-and-a-miss with all eyes on how the prime minister’s team handles his return to the country. Sidestepping the hotel quarantine that the Liberal government doubled down on this week, despite calls to end the practice by their expert panel, would quickly erase any positive stories emerging from the trip.

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