How much good will is the notoriously ill-willed Trump likely to extend once he is informed that Canada’s global affairs minister sat on a stage while a video played comparing him to a rogue’s gallery of autocrats including Russia’s Vladimir Putin , Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad ?…
All these leaders , claimed the video that opened the panel , use ‘ fear, racism , corruption , anti-immigrant sentiment and misinformation to crack down on a free press , rule of law and political freedom to undermine democracy and consolidate power ‘…
Reasonable people can debate Trump’s foibles and shortcomings , particularly with regard to immigration and a free press , but Bashar al-Assad he is not.
For Freeland to tacitly endorse the comparison , the day before she sat across the table from Trump’s trade representative negotiating a deal crucial to this country’s national interest , was grossly irresponsible.
Unless , of course , the Trudeau government has already concluded that Trump’s demands on access to Canada’s dairy industry , the dispute-resolution system and cultural exemptions on media ownership and content are so unacceptable they’d be better off politically walking away without a deal and campaigning in the next election on having stood up to Trump. That certainly seemed to be the tenor of Justin Trudeau’s remarks ahead of the Liberal caucus retreat in Saskatoon Wednesday , where he congratulated Freeland for “ standing up for Canadian workers and defending our interests ”…
Canada would not sign an agreement that is “not to our advantage,” he said in French. “It would be better not to sign any agreement in such a case.”
Better off for the Liberal Party perhaps … But for the Canadian economy ? Hardly … There is a misplaced sense of confidence on the Canadian side that it is Trump who is in trouble … That if a deal with Canada can’t be struck , the president will be left with a U.S.-Mexico agreement that Congress won’t approve. But beyond that , there is a worrying evangelistic tone to Liberal rhetoric these days that suggests they might be best served presenting themselves to Canadians as the light of the world , a breakwater against a global tide of populism.
It’s not cynical. Many senior Liberals truly believe they have been ordained to fight for Canada at a pivotal moment in its history … The triumph of romanticism over realpolitik. During the Taking on the Tyrant panel Freeland recounted that Trudeau tells his cabinet ( so much for confidences ) that “ Canada didn’t happen by accident , and it won’t continue without intentional effort ”. This sense of manifest destiny will endure , even if a NAFTA deal is struck. But it would be so much more compelling to campaign against the threat to the multilateral rules-based order posed by Trump than to have to exaggerate the menace of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer , widely considered as harmless as a garter snake.
This is not to suggest that if a deal is within reach Canada will reject it ; just that the Trudeau government has one eye on next year’s election and will not make concessions that will be politically unpalatable , particularly in Quebec.
Securing a commitment from Trump that he will not in future invoke the Section 232 national security provision used to justify steel and aluminum tariffs might be worth risking a breakdown in talks. But protecting the cosseted dairy industry and insisting the dispute-resolution mechanism remains unchanged are not hills to die on.
Trudeau said Canada is prepared to be flexible on dairy … Yet we were ‘ flexible ‘ with the Europeans , offering an increased quota of cheese that could enter Canada tariff-free. As CBC reported Wednesday , only one third of that quota has been imported , as processors active in the domestic cheese industry ( … meaning all the KBec dairy farmers ! … ) have decided they’d prefer to do without the competition.
The Americans won’t be fooled in the same manner.