Vice President Pence is scheduled to land in Ottawa on Thursday to talk up the renegotiated North American trade deal. But he might be in for a talking-to on access to abortion — at least according to his host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau said Wednesday that he plans to raise Canadian concerns about recent U.S. moves to curb access to abortion, and to address “backsliding” on women’s rights from conservative groups around the world, when he meets the vice president Thursday.
“Obviously, I am very concerned with the backsliding of women’s rights we are seeing from conservative movements here in Canada, in the United States and around the world,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. “I will have a broad conversation with the vice president, in which that will of course come up, but we are mostly going to focus on the ratification process of NAFTA and making sure we get good jobs for Canadians.”
Pence is a staunch opponent of abortion. A spokeswoman for the vice president did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trudeau’s remarks could dampen what the White House billed as an upbeat trip focused on Trump administration priorities such as trade and growth. They also provide a glimpse of the growing political distance between the Trump administration and the Trudeau government.
The United States and Canada remain close allies with tightly integrated economies, but the last few years have been tough on the relationship.
President Trump, who was elected in part on promises to rewrite the rules of global trade, has repeatedly accused Canada of taking advantage of the United States.
Last year, amid tense negotiations over the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. president shocked Ottawa by levying tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, citing national security concerns.
Then, after attending a contentious Group of Seven meeting in Quebec, Trump tweeted insults at Trudeau from his plane — an unusual display that many Canadians took personally.
After the United States, Mexico and Canada reached a tentative deal for the aptly, if awkwardly, named United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Canadians expected Trump to lift the tariffs. He did not.
It was not until this month that the three countries reached a deal on steel and aluminum, providing a happy news peg for Pence’s trip and — all sides seem to hope — paving the way for the deal’s ratification.
Against this backdrop, the promise of a discussion on abortion adds an unknown element to the mix.
Abortion is mostly treated as a medical, not political, question in mainstream Canadian politics. But Trudeau and the journalists who pressed him on it are well aware of the significance of the issue to an American conservative such as Pence.
The question now is how Trudeau will raise the issue, and how Pence will respond.