“I thought it was a dumb comment but I wasn’t surprised,” said Mark Warner, an international trade lawyer in Toronto. “If it came from any other world leader it would be troubling. But pretty obviously he’d not a details guy and he’s kind of got a negotiating strategy of being in the moment.”
In Quebec, where Mr. Trump’s aggressive trade tactics, protectionist impulses and “America First” mantra have been met with concern and bemusement, Canadians were not impressed by what some construed as just the latest example of “lies” and obfuscation by Mr. Trump.
“It is scary, as his lying has become the new normal,” said Cory Whiteduck, a 35- year-old radio host and cigarette seller in Kitigan Zibi reserve, near Maniwaki, Quebec, about 85 miles north of Ottawa. “Normally it would raise red flags, and a politician would be in trouble. It is not a productive way of doing things or a good mentality.”
Michel Pronovost, a retired construction worker, said Mr. Trudeau was, by now, accustomed to Mr. Trump’s creativity with the facts.
“Do you really think he didn’t know that Trump was lying to him?” he asked. “Of course, he knew.” But he added that while Mr. Trump’s protectionism was bad for Canada, he was “trying to protect his own people, just like China or any country would do.”
Some Americans denounced Mr. Trump’s admission, including Bruce A. Heyman, the United States’ ambassador to Canada under President Barack Obama, who spoke out in a series of posts on Twitter.
“Creating a crisis where none existed before is no way to run our country,” Mr. Heyman posted. “Canada is our best friend and don’t ever forget it! We should never put the relationship at risk.”
He added: “When I left it was the best relationship the U.S.A. had in the world. The President is casually throwing Canada under the bus and this is just wrong.
Determining trade balances is not straightforward. According to the United States trade office, the United States had a $12.1 deficit in the trade in goods with Canada in 2016. But that was more than offset by a $24.6 billion surplus in the United States’ favor in trade in services.
In a statement, the Canadian government noted the United States trade representative’s finding of a surplus. Mr. Trudeau’s office declined to comment.
On Thursday morning, Mr. Trump was not backing down. On Twitter he wrote: “We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive). P.M. Justin Trudeau of Canada, a very good guy, doesn’t like saying that Canada has a Surplus vs. the U.S. (negotiating), but they do … they almost all do … and that’s how I know!”
Trade disputes between Canada and the United States have not run a straight course. After Washington introduced the duties on steel and aluminum, it suspended them for Canada.
But officials in Mr. Trump’s administration insist that the United States runs a steel trade deficit with Canada, even though figures from both governments show that trade is balanced.
The trade action over the new Canadian jetliner was ultimately dropped, but not before threatening the future of Bombardier, one of Canada’s largest industrial companies.
After demanding that the North American Free Trade Agreement be reopened, Mr. Trump’s negotiators presented a list of demands that Canada has declared unacceptable. Mr. Trudeau has said that Canada is prepared to abandon Nafta rather than accept a “bad deal.”