OTTAWA—There was straight talk and there was cake. Yep. Cake.

When U.S. President Donald Trump’s top military adviser, the gruff and tough Defence Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, last Monday, they sat down for serious discussions.

Mattis brought a disarming surprise. A “Happy 150th birthday Canada” cake with a big Canadian flag on it, offered to Sajjan and his staff by Pentagon officials.

After the formal bilateral meeting, Sajjan and Mattis held a private dinner with their top aides while the others split the cake. Then Sajjan brought the uneaten middle chunk — with a big Maple Leaf on it — back to Ottawa. He presented it to Trudeau at a cabinet meeting the next day.

With gestures like that, you might expect the table’s been set for a friendly meeting between Trudeau and Trump on Monday.

But that may depend on whether the two leaders can find any chemistry despite their obvious differences.

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If nothing else, the conservative populist Republican businessman and the progressive Liberal with political blue blood running in his veins each need the relationship to work.

In advance of the meeting, Trudeau seems to think it will.

He said Friday in Yellowknife that because the nation-to-nation relationship is long, deep and multi-faceted, and because both leaders are focused on “prosperity and opportunity for the middle class” on both sides of the border, “we’re certainly going to find common ground.”

Trudeau acknowledged there will be differences, but he said he will disagree “respectfully.” And yet Trudeau seems to think he can win Trump over, not by carrying the torch of liberalism, but on a practical level.

“I will continue to defend Canadian values, not out of a sense of ideology but because we know that our pragmatic and open approach to the world and to trade and a broad number of issues works for our society, works for our country and can work for the world.”

Earlier at a town hall in Yellowknife, asked how he’ll approach their differences, Trudeau said that in an increasingly pluralistic world, “Canada has a really, really important story to tell. It’s going to be important that we tell it.” One speaker quipped Trudeau should tell Trump, “we want to build our wall, too.”

One thing is certain: It will be a high-wire balancing act for both. Trump needs allies as he barges onto the world stage. Trudeau needs Trump to view Canada as a friend, ally and trusted trading partner. He would, after all, know well the truth of the phrase coined by his father, former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau — that the Canadian mouse sleeping with an American elephant feels every twitch “no matter how friendly or even-tempered is the beast.”

So Trudeau and the Canadian ministers repeat the mantra: Canada is the No. 1 export destination for 35 states, and the two countries do more than $2.4 billion in trade very day. And more than 9 million American jobs depend directly on exports to Canada.

It’s a good pitch they hope will persuade Trump that he’ll hurt his own people if he rips up NAFTA as threatened, or seeks punitive trade measures or tariffs at the border.

But words still matter. And slip-ups happen.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland met Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump’s top foreign affairs adviser, and other Washington power brokers on Wednesday. There was no cake. No gifts exchanged.

Still, Freeland emerged thrilled to report how informed the Americans already were about the integrated Canadian and U.S. economies, saying she was “really pushing on an open door.”

Freeland has worked overtime in recent weeks getting ready for Trump’s anticipated moves. She led consultations with key Canadian stakeholders, labour representatives, softwood lumber industry representatives, the financial and banking sectors, tech sector and natural resources sector.

But in the space of one conference call with Canadian reporters, Freeland stomped on the government’s main message. She said she’d made clear to the Americans that Canada believed “tariffs on exports would be mutually harmful to both Canada and the United States, and if such an idea were ever to come into being Canada would respond appropriately.”

It was language that sounded more threatening and unfriendly than sources in government say was intended. It led immediately to headlines that Canada was prepared to levy a tax back or readying for a trade war, a mixed message at odds with what was supposed to be Canada’s message that day: that the Trudeau government is strongly opposed to any imposition of new tariffs between Canada and the United States.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa, Trudeau is under pressure to drop economic policies that might make Canada uncompetitive with the U.S., or to stand up to Trump on sensitive issues like immigration and cross-border traffic.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre warned the Monday summit with the president “must not turn into an episode of The Apprentice. One-fifth of our workers depend on Canada-U.S. trade for their jobs. Donald Trump wants to move those jobs south,” he said, telling Trudeau to drop plans for carbon taxes and fiscal measures he said would hurt companies here.

The NDP’s Nathan Cullen said scornfully it is a “celebrity summit” where Trudeau can’t afford to simply make nice.

“It has to be more than a cordial first chat,” Cullen said. “A trade war with Canada is being threatened from Mr. Trump’s office and some Republicans now. So we don’t have time for Mr. Trudeau just to have a Budweiser with Mr. Trump.”

“Straight, firm talk from our prime minister would be the only way to gain respect in this White House.”

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