There was pomp, a ceremonial sword, but no pirouette.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Buckingham Palace was keenly watched in Canada, it’s another day at work for the Queen. She’s been on the job for so long—23,304 days and counting—that she’d nearly clocked up two decades in power when Justin Trudeau was born in 1971. He is her 12th Canadian prime minister.
In contrast, Justin Trudeau is very much the new kid on the block, with a mere 21 days in office. He hasn’t fully unpacked yet and is on a whirlwind schedule of global meetings where he’s being greeted by screaming admirers, clamoring for selfies. He’s even in the new issue of Vogue.
Trudeau is on Vogue’s “Unconventional Alternatives to the Sexiest Man Alive” list. Are we done now? pic.twitter.com/Z5YY51u1xw
— Sarah Sears (@iamsas) November 24, 2015
Sure, his dad, late PM Pierre Trudeau, did a famous twirl at a G7 banquet at Buckingham Palace in 1977. But he’d been in the job for nine years, and had a well-earned rep for being eccentric. In this era of social media, every politician knows that dissing a popular 89-year-old monarch is political suicide.
Elizabeth has done this sort of meeting thousands of times before. Every week or so, a royal press release records the Queen’s audiences. On Nov. 4, it was diplomats from Mauritius and Uzbekistan, while on Oct. 30, it was New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key.
Trudeau and his family were greeted at the entrance of Buckingham Palace by the Queen’s equerry, Wing Commander Sam Fletcher (the owner of that sword). The PM was then escorted by Fletcher to meet the Queen in her private audience room.
First come the pleasantries. “You were taller than me at the time,” Trudeau told the Queen of their last meeting when he was a child travelling with his father. The Queen acknowledged the rarity of the occasion, “Well, this is extraordinary to think, isn’t it?” A few pictures were taken, then the doors closed, leaving the Queen and her Prime Minister to enjoy a chat.
What specifically did they talk about? If precedence holds, we will never know. There is a strict code of confidentiality about meetings between the Queen and her prime ministers. When David Cameron revealed that the sovereign “purred” on hearing the Scottish referendum had been defeated, he was subjected to withering criticism for breaking the cone of silence.
Both being fluently bilingual, Trudeau and the Queen likely switched between English and French. Before meeting Trudeau, the Queen would have been well briefed on the big issues in Canada: Syrian refugees, a struggling oil sector, the new government’s objectives. She has an encyclopedic memory, helped by the fact that for 63 years she’s pored over confidential documents and reports, met regularly with officials and has visited every corner of her northern realm.
It’s unlikely the removal of that copy of a portrait of the Queen at the renamed Global Affairs Department was mentioned. This is a woman who can afford to take a very, very long view of history. Politicians come and go, grand policies are implemented then discarded, but the Crown remains. Minor distractions are just that, distractions.
A topic certainly on the agenda would be the Commonwealth. Both Trudeau and the Queen will be in Malta at the end of the week for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The organization of former British possessions (now so popular that countries like Rwanda with no British history are joining) is one of the Queen’s favourite institutions.
The meeting was around 30 minutes long. It ends when the Queen scoops up her purse, which is always with her and is used to telegraph her intentions to others. She stands up, shakes Trudeau’s hand, and with that, their first meeting as adults is over.
The palace issues the most economical of statements: “The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau MP, the Prime Minister of Canada, was received in audience by The Queen today.” What more is there to say?