Conversational icebreakers for Trump and Trudeau

From a B.C. hotel to the oil sands, Trump and Trudeau could use these items of common ground to keep the crickets from chirping

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The Arctic Restaurant and Hotel, seen here on the right in a photo in Whitehorse, Yukon, ca. 1899 (Provincial Archives of Alberta)

They can’t talk about golf—Justin Trudeau doesn’t play the game. They can’t talk about the fine art of taking selfies—Donald Trump only seems interested using his unsecured Android phone to take calls and emit ALL-CAPS TWEETS. Perhaps, when the Canadian Prime Minister and the U.S. President meet, they can chat about kids, because despite the fact Trump is a quarter-century older, his youngest son Barron is roughly the same age as Xavier, Trudeau’s eldest child.

But if their first encounter is all about getting Trump to think warmly of Canada and its leader, it couldn’t hurt Trudeau to steer the small talk toward Can-con. And since one of Trump’s favourite subjects appears to be Donald Trump himself, there are a few ways the visiting leader can remind his host about the intersections of Canadiana and Trumpland.

MORE: An ex-ambassador on the important of the first bilateral meeting

Trump of the Klondike

The 45th president of the United States was born after his paternal grandfather Friedrich Trump died. But Friedrich, the first Trump to arrive in the United States laid a foundation for his family’s successes in real estate development. And the German-born immigrant’s first successes came during the gold rush in Canada’s North. In 1898, Friedrich Trump set up the New Arctic Restaurant in Bennett, B.C., a key stopping point on the snowy route toward the Yukon gold fields. It offered finer fare than the horsemeat that Klondikers were used to eating, as well as private rooms where ladies would satisfy travelling men’s other indulgences. When the train to Whitehorse created an easier route for prospectors, Trump put his restaurant on a barge and reopened it in Yukon’s fledgling new city. The entrepreneur split by 1901 as the rush slowed down, flush with enough money to return to Germany, find a wife and resettle in New York.

MORE: Inside the wild Canadian past of the Trump family

Olympic Ivana

If it weren’t for the Montreal Summer Olympics of 1976, Donald Trump might have never met his first wife, mother of Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric. In the early 1970s, she left Czechoslovakia, her Communist-controlled homeland, for Montreal. She became a successful model, with clients like Eaton’s department store and the 1976 Summer Games. The latter gig sent her to New York City for a pre-Olympic promotional event; on a night out, they were treated at a special table in a chic Manhattan restaurant by a then-young businessman named Donald. Ivana’s days in Montreal didn’t last long; she married Trump in 1977.

Trudeau, alas, wouldn’t be able to reminisce much about what Montreal was like in Ivana’s days; he was four years old during the Montreal Olympics, and was living in Ottawa, where his dad worked.

The Arctic Restaurant and Hotel, seen here on the right in a photo in Whitehorse, Yukon, ca. 1899 (Provincial Archives of Alberta)
The Arctic Restaurant and Hotel, seen here on the right in a photo in Whitehorse, Yukon, ca. 1899 (Provincial Archives of Alberta)

A son in Yellowknife

Like his great-grandfather before him, Donald Trump, Jr., has made a journey to Canada’s North that few Canadians can say they’ve made, let alone Americans. But in the case of the now-president’s son, this was a pleasure trip. The avid outdoorsman posted to Instagram last August a picture of himself and his seven-year-old son Donald John Trump III at the Yellowknife airport. While reports first suggested this was one of Don Jr.’s many hunting trips, he later updated Instagram with shots of them camping and hiking near the Northwest Territories-Yukon border, albeit in camouflage clothing.

Trudeau would be wiser to chat about his long-past summer adventures in N.W.T. than his trip last week to Yellowknife. Imagine:

Trump: Oh yeah? For hunting? What things do you hunt in the winter?

Trudeau: Actually, no. I held a constituent town hall. Faced a lot of questions about electoral reform.

Trump: …

Trudeau: About changes people want to the voting system.

Trump: So it’s rigged up there, too, is it?

Trudeau: ….

Rex Tillerson’s Alberta interests

In the event that Trump’s new secretary of state Rex Tillerson sits in on the confab, Trudeau will have a key Canadian interest to bring up: the oil sands. Until recently Tillerson was CEO of ExxonMobil, whose Canadian affiliate Imperial Oil runs the Kearl and Cold lake projects and holds a 25-per-cent stake in Syncrude. This bit of conversation could help Trudeau segue into appreciation for Trump’s order reviving the Keystone XL pipeline, and help insulate Canada’s fossil fuel exports from protectionist taxes or tariffs. The Prime Minister did recently talk about phasing out the oil sands—over many decades in step with slowing global demand, he later took pains to clarify. But in Tillerson and Trump he’ll likely have eager fans of keeping the flow of bitumen steady.

The current family business

The president’s keenness to speak out on Nordstrom and his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line indicates that he’s not lost sight of his family’s business interests. This makes it likely that when Canada comes up, his mind will turn to Trump International Hotel and Tower projects in Toronto and Vancouver. The Vancouver tower opened around the time of his inauguration last month. It’s not the best idea for Trudeau to engage in chats about these projects for a few reasons. Firstly, they’re not getting much local love—civic politicians in both cities tried to get the Trump name off the towers when he first floated a Muslim ban in late 2015, and the Vancouver property got hit with eggs during last month’s women’s march. Also, the sluggish condo sales in the Toronto tower helped drive the project into receivership, and it’s now for sale (though that shouldn’t affect Trump’s making money off licensing fees for having his name on the building).

Most importantly, Trudeau probably shouldn’t prompt the president to talk about his foreign business interests he’s supposed to have at least partially disentangled himself from, given the ethical murk he’s in and lawsuit he faces for potentially violating a U.S. constitutional clause prohibiting him from benefiting by payments from foreign governments.