After the diplomatic disaster of the Group of Seven summit in Charlevoix, Que., it is now clear that for Mr. Trump it is not about leading – the traditional role of the U.S. President – but about winning at any cost. Relationships are not for cultivating, but only for using to Trumpian advantage.
Canada and like-minded countries need to stick together, act in tandem and push back against Trumpist protectionism. It means taking it to him where it hurts and targeting his base: in particular the farm community. At the same time, we need to tell Americans, who will suffer job loss and higher prices, that they have only their president to blame.
For more than 500 days now, Justin Trudeau has made nice to Mr. Trump. The advice from former prime minister Brian Mulroney was correct – that the relationship with the president is the most important relationship for a prime minister and that Canada-U.S. relations, alongside national unity and national security, are the files that require a prime minister’s constant attention.
Among liberal democratic leaders, Mr. Trudeau was seen as the one who had the best relationship with Mr. Trump. He was the Trump whisperer. But Mr. Trump’s behaviour at Charlevoix, Que., was abominable.
The tweets before Charlevoix, Que., took personal shots at both Mr. Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, the other leader who has cultivated Mr. Trump. The tweets afterward, insulting Mr. Trudeau, are beyond the pale. As Mr. Trudeau said, we are a polite people but we are not pushovers.
Canadians are justly outraged, but we have deep interests at stake, so we need to proceed with care and planning.
First, we need to get our act together domestically. Mr. Trudeau needs to consult with the premiers and business to get their advice on our retaliation list. What is their assessment of increased protectionism on their province and industries? What about life after the North American free-trade agreement? We will be hurt. We will need to provide adjustment assistance for the afflicted. But how would Americans like it if Canadians began to spontaneously boycott American goods, especially U.S. farm produce, and stopped travelling south for holidays?
Second, we need to take advantage of the free-trade deals that we already have in place and put real effort into matchmaking; business with business. As a matter of our national security (two can play this game), we should quickly pass the implementing legislation to bring the new Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership into effect. With Canada’s implementation, the agreement would immediately come into force.
If this means keeping parliamentarians at work into July so be it. Provincial legislatures may also have to be recalled. While they are at it they should pass their enabling legislation for the Canada-Europe Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. This is a matter of grave national economic urgency. Canadians need to see that their legislators are acting in the national interest.
Third, we need to act in tandem with our G7 partners and like-minded countries, such as Mexico, as we collectively retaliate to the recently imposed steel and aluminium tariffs. Canada and Mexico learned the value of acting collectively when they worked together to persuade the U.S. Congress to rescind its protectionist country-of-origin labelling requirement in 2015.
American legislators respond to local pressure. They need to feel the heat of retaliation. Canada has a lot of allies, especially in the Republican congressional caucus. They don’t like Mr. Trump’s direction and are already moving to curb the trade powers that were ceded to the executive branch during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. Hopefully, we will see then the beauty of the checks and balances at work. The U.S. founding fathers designed their system to prevent a president from becoming a king.
The more Mr. Trump attacks his fellow G7 and fellow democratically elected leaders the more difficult it makes it for them to go along with him when it counts. That includes, however unlikely, a deal with North Korea.
The road that Mr. Trump is going down makes no economic sense. George W. Bush reluctantly imposed limited steel tariffs in 2002 (Canada was exempt) and lifted them a year later because it was costing American jobs, not creating them.
Canadians are used to compromise and consensus, especially in how we handle the relationship with Uncle Sam. Manage it well and we can tell them when their breath is bad. Mr. Trump has a bad case of halitosis. We need to tell him so and serve him the bitter medicine he has brought on himself.
CPAC Prime Time Politics Monday, June 11, 2018
Colin Robertson and Christopher Sands on Canada–U.S. Relations
Anyone in the mood for a summer election?
“[T]he Prime Minister must be tempted to do something with this rare moment of Canadian unity. When again is he going to find Doug Ford, the soon-to-be Conservative premier of Ontario, and Jason Kenney, the would-be premier of Alberta, on his side?”
If a referendum were held across Canada right now on the trade fight between Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister would most certainly win.
So is anyone in the mood for a summer election?
Nobody panic — the question is posed in wild speculation — mostly. Trudeau has given every indication since the weekend’s Canada-U.S. blowup that he is trying to de-escalate the tension with Trump, despite the ongoing provocation from the President.
Pitching the nation into a snap election would certainly ratchet things up a notch — a 21st century version of a free-trade election in Canada, with everyone on the same side this time. Take that, Mr. Trump.
While Trump was waving an accusing finger in Canada’s direction on Tuesday, warning that his spat with Trudeau would cost Canadians a lot of money, Trudeau was saying little in reply. In the Commons on Tuesday, Trudeau thanked those who are usually his critics for standing in solidarity with the government.
Still, the Prime Minister must be tempted to do something with this rare moment of Canadian unity. When again is he going to find Doug Ford, the soon-to-be Conservative premier of Ontario, and Jason Kenney, the would-be premier of Alberta, on his side?
Instead of adjourning Parliament for the summer in the next couple of weeks, Trudeau could dissolve it completely, heading to Rideau Hall and telling the Governor-General that he needs an entirely new mandate to deal with this crisis in Canada-U.S. relations.
There was no such thing as a Trump presidency when Canadians last went to the polls in 2015 — Trudeau could argue that it’s time we elected a government specifically to deal with the clear and present danger that the American president is posing to to the Canadian economy.
Presumably, the government is already at work on a new Throne Speech; would it be that much of a stretch to turn it into a re-election platform?
Trudeau has already let this one session of Parliament drag on much longer than is either expected or usual. It’s now lasted over 920 days — well over the maximum number of days that any prime minister has kept Parliament in one session since the early 1980s, when Trudeau’s father set the record for the longest session since Confederation. (That was 1325 days, from April 1980 to November 1983.)
But that may not be the prime ministerial precedent on the minds of Trudeau and his team these days. Who else called early elections to seize prime political moments in the past? Here’s one: Jean Chretien, the wily Liberal who dissolved Parliament after three and half years in his first mandate (from the fall of 1993 to spring 1997) and after just three years to get re-elected in 2000. Chretien merely waved off accusations of cynicism — and won three back-to-back majorities for his insouciance.
Certainly, Trudeau’s rivals would call any early election call the height of opportunism — and a slap in the face to fixed election dates that didn’t exist when Chretien was in power.
But think of all the headaches Trudeau could avoid (or postpone) confronting in the next 16 months by calling an election for this summer: He’d be sidestepping, at least for a while, the unravelling provincial unity on carbon taxes, The new government of Ontario is already promising to be a big spoiler on this one, as is Kenney if he gets elected premier next spring in Alberta.
Trudeau and his team must be having nightmares about the looming summer of protest over the Trans Mountain pipeline, feeding into the ongoing, escalating standoff between Alberta and British Columbia.
If the government does have to fiddle with supply management to keep trade talks going with the U.S., Trudeau may want to get an election out of the way first to avoid repercussions among dairy farmers, especially in the crucial electoral battlefields of Quebec.
Also expected this summer is a rapid increase in the number of refugee claimants crossing the border, heightening already worrying tension in Canada over immigration and refugees. Of course, this could also become an election issue, but the last time Canada had a federal election debate over immigration issues, Trudeau came out on top.
Marijuana legalization would presumably be under way (if the legislation clears the Commons and Senate in the next week or so) but still in the bumpy, early stages. Liberals wouldn’t have to deal with these until after an election — presuming they win — but they could campaign on it as a promise delivered.
It’s not clear how a summer election in Canada would be greeted by Trump. On the one hand, his ego might be gratified to see a large-scale reaction of this sort. On the other hand, if he was sent into high dudgeon watching one Trudeau press conference slamming Trump, one can only imagine how he’d feel about 36 days of non-stop rhetoric against him on the Canadian campaign trail.
Would that help or hurt us? Who knows with this President? Maybe an election would give everyone a cooling-off period.
Trump’s war of words with Trudeau is already threatening to make this a long, hot summer for the Liberal government. Colin Robertson, the veteran Canada-U.S. specialist, suggested in a very interesting column this week that Trudeau might want to keep Parliament sitting all summer to seal other trade deals and insulate Canada from other punitive measures coming from south of the border.
Could it be a long, hot summer of politics and trade talk for all us? A free trade, anti-Trump election in 2018? With Canada-U.S. relations out of the box, to say the least, you can bet the idea is at least floating out there too.