Managing Trump: Canadian Response after 100 Days

Managing Trump: The Canadian Response

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Image: New York Magazine

by Colin Robertson
Vice-President and Fellow
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
April, 2017

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Managing Trump: The Canadian Response

Every prime minister has three files resting permanently on their desk, requiring their personal attention: national security, national unity and the Canada-U.S. relationship. For Justin Trudeau, the election of Donald Trump has meant putting the Canada-U.S. file on the top of the pile.

Trump campaigned in punchlines, with a signature blend of bombast, bravado and bullying. His platform was nativist, protectionist and populist. His campaign, featuring big rallies and a minimal ground game, defied the new-age electoral conventions based on data-driven micro-targeting. In its successful capture of the Republican nomination and then the presidency, he defied the pundits, the GOP establishment (including its national security establishment that publicly deemed he would put the nation’s security “at risk”) and its conservative wing.1

As president, Donald Trump continues to be a ‘renegade in power’. His tweets have redefined the power of the ‘bully pulpit’ and his administration’s alternative facts and his own truthiness (according the Washington Post during his first 91 days in office Mr. Trump has made 417 false or misleading claims).2

In as much as President Trump has governing principles, they are about the bottom line and what good they will do for the USA. Whereas previous presidents avoided linkage between economics and security, for Trump they are a natural match. It is all part of the ‘art of the deal’.

As he approached his hundred days in office. President Trump took jabs at Canadian dairy, lumber, energy, and threatened withdrawal from the North American free-trade agreement declaring from the White House that “people don’t realize Canada has been very rough on the United States.3 Everyone thinks of Canada as being wonderful, and so do I. I love Canada. But they’ve outsmarted our politicians for many years, and you people understand that.” It was a reminder to Canadians that we do not enjoy any special exemption from the “Full Trump.”

While much of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric is merely noise, what is dangerous about the noise is the effect it is having on business confidence, both domestic and foreign, and about investment in Canada. If investors think Canada is going to lose its ease of access to the United States, Mr. Trudeau’s commitment to create middle-class jobs will not happen.

The Trudeau government’s response has been one of careful, calibrated, fact-based engagement. The opposition and provincial governments, especially premiers, are part of the outreach effort, making it a “Team Canada” initiative. Buttressed with local content, the initiative builds on three core messages: Canada is a fair-trade partner and a market that creates jobs for Americans; Canada is a reliable ally; Canadian resources fuel American growth and jobs.

The relationship and managing Mr. Trump is one that Prime Minister Trudeau must manage personally and get right. Canadian prosperity, and his own re-election, depend on it.



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