OTTAWA — High-ranking Belgian officials played down a perceived snub of the Belgian king and queen by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the royal couple carried on day two of their week-long state visit to Canada.
A meeting between Trudeau and the royal couple would have been preferred, Belgium’s deputy prime minister said in an interview Tuesday.
King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium tour the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 13, 2018.
“It’s all the time better to have contact with the prime minister,” Didier Reynders said.
But Reynders, who is also Belgium’s foreign and European affairs minister, said he understood that Trudeau is dealing with more pressing political concerns: namely, showing support for his country’s steel and aluminum industries.
Trudeau launched a cross-country tour of steel and aluminum mills this week in light of potential tariffs on the metals being imposed by the U.S. government, even though Canada and Mexico were granted a temporary exemption from the tariffs last week by President Donald Trump.
“It’s a choice,” Reynders said of Trudeau’s decision to immerse himself in meetings with steel and aluminum producers.
“We have full respect for such a choice.”
A government source, who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity, said Belgian officials were told well in advance of the planned visit by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde that Trudeau would likely be unavailable to meet with them this week.
But that message was relayed before the prime minister planned his outreach tour of cities that could be impacted by tariffs.
What was more important for Belgium this week, said Reynders, was that Canada’s International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne was available to discuss trade issues with Belgian political and industrial leaders.
“Of course we’d prefer also to discuss with the prime minister,” said Reynders.
“As a politician, I fully understand that this may be a priority to be very close to the workers and very close to the different people in the steel industry and in aluminum than to organize a contact during a state visit.”
Helene Laroche, right, operation director AP60 technology centre, guides Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard during a visit of the Rio Tinto AP60 aluminium plant Monday, March 12, 2018 in Saguenay Que.
Several other federal cabinet ministers have greeted the royals so far; among them Treasury Board President Scott Brison and Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan, who was at Gov. Gen. Julie Payette’s side as she officially welcomed the couple Monday at Rideau Hall.
King Philippe spoke Tuesday at the University of Ottawa where he also met with students and academics before attending a First World War commemoration, where a cannon from the war that was gifted to Belgium in 1919 was put on display at the Canadian War Museum.
Trudeau, meanwhile, was in Hamilton, Ont., visiting the city’s two largest steel producers in a show of solidarity with workers as the Liberal government also worked back channels to ensure that Trump’s threat of tariffs doesn’t become a reality.
Trump has tied Canada’s exemption from the tariffs to a …read more