03.15.2016 12:00 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: selfies, state dinners and West Wing 

A meal, some speeches, and some selfies.

That’s what State Dinners are, mostly. They’re supper, basically, except you have to wear your best clothes and be on your best behaviour.

When Jean Chretien was still running things, I was lucky enough to be invited to some State Dinners. At one of them, the best-ever Prime Minister was hosting Russian president Vladimir Putin. Unlike Stephen Harper would do, much later on, I shook Putin’s hand.

I tried to exchange a few words with Putin, too, via a translator. I distinctly remember an ominous grin playing across the Russian strongman’s face as he looked up at me (he’s really short, or I’m really tall). I recall thinking he had the look and comportment of a guy who would run you over with a tank if he didn’t like what you had to say. Which, as historians will agree, is exactly the case.

Anyway. That’s State Dinners. Most of the time, they’re genteel affairs, with lots of politesse, and everyone doing their utmost to avoid sounding like Donald Trump.

But was anything actually accomplished, at last week’s much-written-about Trudeau-Obama bromance banquet? Probably not. But fans of The West Wing – which famously did a whole episode about State Dinners, way back in 1999 – will know that they can be an occasion for important things to be said. To wit:

Sam Seaborn: Toby, do you really think it’s a good idea to invite people to dinner and then to tell them exactly what they’re doing wrong with their lives?

Toby Ziegler: Absolutely, otherwise it’s just a waste of food.

Exactly. (And don’t you wish Josiah Bartlet was running for president in 2016? Me, too.)

The point, here, is that Justin Trudeau was having duck for dinner duck – as in, a lame duck. The guy he was breaking bread with will be at a Wall Street law firm a year from now, making a bajillion dollars for speeches to Rotarians. He won’t be spending two minutes thinking about Trudeau or Canada.

The people Trudeau needs to be focused on, instead, weren’t even at the dinner: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz or (God forbid) the aforementioned Donald Trump. They were chasing delegates in the mid-West.

Per The West Wing, Canada’s newly-minted Prime Minister should consider using State Dinners, and the like, to pass along a few hard truths to Washington audiences. These are found below, helpfully typed up as talking points.

· My American friends, I’m from Canada. Head to Buffalo, then turn left. You can’t miss us.
· I know the primaries probably convinced all of you that the path to power lies in tearing up trade agreements with countries like mine. That’s why Bernie shocked everyone, and beat Hillary in various Rust Belt states. That’s why Donald won everywhere – he peddles anti-free trade xenophobia.
· But don’t do it. With the world economy starting show the faintest glimmers of hope, don’t embrace protectionism. Don’t become (even more) insular. Don’t succumb to the siren song of solipsism. It doesn’t work.
· While we’re on the subject, consider a couple things Canada is good at. Our banking system, for starters. Yours, a few years back, plunged everyone into a global recession. We Canadians did pretty well, in that sad era, because we don’t ever let bankers do whatever their tiny black hearts desire. You need to similarly restrain them, before they conjure up yet another mess.
· Guns, too. Proportionately, we have as many crazy people as you do. But we don’t like our crazy people get their hands on assault rifles. You should do likewise. You’ll thank us one day.
· Health care, as well. We’re not bad at it, and you stink at it. When candidates for president start promising to give U.S. citizens less health care, not more – when they want to let poor, sick people get poorer and sicker – well, there’s something wrong in your culture, folks. Needs fixing.
· Refugees, immigrants, newcomers: we welcome them. You should, too. They become citizens, they get jobs, they pay taxes. It’s a good thing. 
· Canada has some useful tips for you to consider. Thanks for dinner.

Would Justin Trudeau ever say any of those things to a well-heeled American audience? Of course not. We Canadians are way too polite.

But these State Dinners don’t come along every week, PMO. The next time one happens, consider delivering a few cautionary messages.

After all, if President Josiah Bartlet thought it was okay to do so, it’s always okay to do so.


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    Dave Kurgen says:

    Sorry to say Warren, but the cynic in me says that you’ll never see Trudeau talk honestly and tough about topics like that. Not while the U.S. is in one of the most heated election years in decades.

    After all is this not the same government that just straight up sold off all of our gold reserves no explanation as to where the cash went, or what it’s replacement asset is?

    http://www.fin.gc.ca/n16/16-030-eng.asp , http://bmgbullion.com/canada-sells-its-gold/ , http://globalnews.ca/news/2508940/canada-sells-nearly-half-of-all-its-gold-reserves/

    Or the difficulties of the current markets for most millennial squeezed against two gens for work and being unable to invest or make savings?


    Or Justin’s deadening silence on the massive foreign ownership of real estate speculation driving out housing for the working classes or our native population?


    I mean no offense but even Justin’s own finance minister barely talks about anything involving Canada’s economy. But Justin would rather talk about how hate speech is bad (which is really a no brainer for anybody sane in this country) and wear a pink sweatshirt instead for a photo op. That’s what he and his PR team and the Liberal party seem to want to talk about right now instead, and I as a Canadian Citizen have no idea why.

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    Steve T says:

    Great article. The West Wing is (still) so quotable.

    Have to disagree about healthcare, though. We need to get off that high horse. Our healthcare system sucks – it’s just that the U.S. system sucks even more. It’s like the second-dumbest kid telling the dumbest kid how dumb they are. Technically true, but…

    There are dozens of countries with much better healthcare systems than ours (and the U.S.’s), and they all have one thing in common: a combination of private and public service providers. Wait times are significantly lower, and no one moans on about a “two tier” system. We already have a two-tier system in Canada; most people can drive a short distance to the U.S. and pay for whatever service they like in a private system. Wouldn’t it be better to be paying a Canadian doctor?

    Sorry, I know that’s a bit off-topic from your post, but I just had to get it out.

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      The Doctor says:

      You are bang-on Steve. Our health care debate in this country is so constipated and dumbed-down, it makes we want to scream. Talk about a false dichotomy, as though our system and the American one are the only two possible alternatives. How can people be so fucking stupid? But that’s typically what we get in editorial pages and comment boards.

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    Ron says:

    From the files of ‘things we wish politicians had the balls to say’:


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    davie says:

    Maybe an added point could be, we Canadians have a (somewhat watery) border with Russia. We might consider adding some urgency to getting on with Russia and our other fellow Arctic nations and coming up with some mutual support policies and exchanges. China and India, and some of their acquaintances are increasingly interested in including the Arctic as an area open to all the world for exploitation.

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