When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau turned down an invitation to the White House this week, it sent a message in line with the current mood in Canada: This is not a good time to travel between Canada and the United States — with the coronavirus still surging in parts of America — to meet with President Trump.
The White House had floated the possibility of an event with Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Wednesday to mark this month’s start of a new trade deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Mexico’s leader is already on his way.
On Monday, Trudeau’s spokesperson, Chantal Gagnon, said in a statement that the prime minister would remain in Ottawa this week “for scheduled Cabinet meetings and the long-planned sitting of Parliament.”
Trudeau said last week that Canada was discussing with the United States whether a summit “makes sense.” His administration was troubled by the threat of new U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, he said, adding that “we’re also concerned about the health situation and the coronavirus reality that is still hitting all three of our countries.”
Canada has reported more than 107,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and more than 8,700 related deaths as of Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. However, new daily numbers have fallen to levels seen in March, while new cases in the United States are surging above the country’s April peak. On Tuesday, Canada counted 399 new cases, compared with nearly 50,000 in the U.S., according to Our World in Data, a research project at the University of Oxford.
The U.S. and Canada have partially closed their shared border since March to prevent the spread of the virus. The rules do allow for diplomatic trips and other travel deemed essential.
A large majority of Canadians, across a wide cross section of society, think the travel restrictions should stay in effect “for the foreseeable future,” according to Nik Nanos of Nanos Research, a public opinion firm. Its new poll shows 81% of Canadians want to maintain the partial border closure.
“Canadians looking south see chaos,” said Chris Sands, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, including confusion around the state-by-state reopening and rising case numbers. “They’re just nervous.”
That Trudeau’s not looking to travel to the United States “shouldn’t be a surprise,” Nanos said.
“The prime minister has put a very high premium on leading by example, everything from wearing a face mask at press conferences through to social distancing,” he said. Trudeau is looking “to avoid engaging in any activities which would be inconsistent with what he’s asking average Canadians to do.”
For example, most travelers arriving in Canada must self-quarantine for 14 days, and police have conducted spot checks to ensure compliance.
The border restrictions, extended until at least July 21, have also separated some families. On Monday, members of Congress from northern U.S. border states called for easing travel for people with relatives or property on the opposite side of the border.
Trudeau also has nothing to gain from a White House visit now, said Nelson Wiseman, political science professor emeritus at the University of Toronto.
“Trudeau loses in Canadian public opinion to be seen chumming around with a very unpopular Trump,” he said.
If Trump loses November’s election, Wiseman predicted, “I don’t expect they will ever meet again.”