Russia-Ukraine: Two years of war
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Dem bias in Ottawa has Trudeau targeting Trump

Dem bias in Ottawa has Trudeau targeting Trump
Jess Frampton

The most intense debate in the Canadian House of Commons of late has been about a humdrum trade deal update between Canada and Ukraine. It is being disputed by the opposition Conservatives because it contains reference to a carbon tax.

Since Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has made “axing the tax” in Canada his number one priority, he has removed his party’s support from the deal, even though Ukraine has had a carbon tax since 2011.

But the governing Liberals say they detect an ulterior motive: the rise of right-wing, MAGA-style conservatism in Canada that has undermined the Conservative Party’s support for Ukraine.

Trudeau’s camp takes aim at MAGA bull's-eye

The Liberals ran an online ad on Monday, ahead of a Canada-Ukraine free trade deal vote in the House, that featured a photo of Justin Trudeau shaking hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky while claiming Poilievre’s party is “importing far-right, American-style politics and refusing to stand with our ally in their time of need.”

Conservatives say they support Ukraine and have just called on Ottawa to send surplus weapons – specifically 83,000 CRV7 rockets slated for disposal – to Kyiv. But the Liberals need to disrupt Poilievre’s momentum and seem convinced that comparing him to Donald Trump might do it.

After the former president won the New Hampshire primary in January, the Liberals made a direct comparison between the two men in an online ad, which said that Trump was one step closer to the White House and that Poilievre was ripping a page from his playbook. The ad noted that both men referenced “corrupt media,” their countries being “broken” and used the slogan “bring it home.”

Trump’s eye-for-an-eye approach

This is a dangerous game, given Trump is ahead in most polls and is an Old Testament-style politician, more inclined to take an eye for an eye than to turn the other cheek.

Why would Trudeau risk baiting the man who could be in the White House this time next year, where he would wield the power to enervate the Canadian economy?

The prime minister knows Trump takes note of every slight and pays everyone back with interest. After the G7 meeting in Charlevoix, Quebec, in 2018, Trudeau gave a closing press conference in which he said Canada would not be pushed around in trade negotiations by the US. According to Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, in his book “The Room Where It Happened,” the president raged against Trudeau, calling the prime minister a “behind your back guy” and ordering his aides to bad mouth Trudeau on the Sunday talk shows.

But Trudeau’s Liberals are trailing the Conservatives by up to 16 percentage points in every public opinion poll, and this tactic may work.

An Abacus data poll from Jan. 28 suggested there is some evidence to suggest that associating Poilievre and Trump correlates with voting intentions, with those who feel that the two men are different more likely to vote Conservative. Tying the two men together in a pejorative fashion is good for the electoral fortunes of the Liberal Party, so the thinking seems to go.

That remains to be seen. Attacking a political rival is always a challenge when the target is held in more esteem than the source of the attack, which is the case here, according to another Abacus poll that found Poilievre much more liked than Trudeau.

Canada’s former man in Washington says to hold fire

The risk is amplified in that the Canadian public may well see through such a transparent tactic and decide that Trudeau is putting his party’s interests ahead of the country’s.

That was the warning issued at the weekend by David MacNaughton, whom Trudeau once appointed as Canada’s ambassador in Washington. He told the Toronto Star that Trudeau is taking a risk by taking indirect shots at Trump.

Doing so will make it harder to fight Trump’s promised 10% tariffs on US imports if he comes to power, he said.

“We used to be seen by the Americans as a trusted friend, ally, and partner, and right now, I don’t think that feeling is as strong as it used to be,” he said.

That MacNaughton has been forced to say this in public suggests he is being ignored in private.

Trudeau revives Team Canada

Trudeau has revived the Team Canada approach to relations with the US that served his government well during the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement that yielded the U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal in 2018.

The new effort will be led by Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s current ambassador in Washington, Francois-Philippe Champagne, the industry minister, and Mary Ng, the trade minister (notably not Mélanie Joly, the foreign minister, or Chrystia Freeland, the deputy prime minister who fell foul of Trump during the USMCA negotiations. “We don’t like their representative,” Trump said at the time).

Municipal mayors, provincial politicians, and business leaders will all be urged to reach out to their contacts to sell the message that the two economies are more integrated than ever. Trade statistics based on the first three years of the new USMCA show that total US trade with Canada and Mexico totaled $1.78 trillion in 2022, a 27% increase over 2019 levels.

When not criticizing “ideologically driven MAGA Conservatives” in Parliament, Trudeau has tried to sound civil.

But as professional diplomats who have worked with Republicans in the US point out, “no amount of Team Canada can overcome those ill-advised MAGA statements.”

Libs and GOP on different planets

Another problem is that the two are on different political planets.

The Liberal government is not keen on engaging with Republican politicians and officials, in part because of an aversion that dates back to the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks on the US Capitol.

The lack of readiness evokes memories of November 2016, when Trump was elected and the Canadian government was caught completely off-guard. The professional bureaucrats who are meant to advise governments had provided no contingency plan for a Trump administration and Trudeau had even invited the sitting Democratic vice president, Joe Biden, to Ottawa for a state dinner the following month. “They were so excited at the prospect of Hillary (Clinton), even better than Obama because she was a woman. They couldn’t wait for the transition,” said one person involved in the planning process. After Trump was elected, the Canadian government couldn’t even reach him to arrange a congratulatory call.

Louise Blais, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, was consul general in the southeast US at the time – MAGA land – and had built up an array of contacts among Republicans that proved invaluable. Among other things, she secured a phone number for the president-elect.

As she wrote in the Globe and Mail last weekend, even the most conservative Republicans are friendly towards Canada, realizing the relationship is a net positive for them. But they value a rapport built up over the years, not arranged in a panic, and they cherish mutual respect.

Blais recalled how former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told her in 2016 that Republicans were hearing what Canada was saying about then-candidate Trump. “Be careful because you are picking sides,” he said.

Trade deal no protection against Trump’s tariffs

The long-standing Democratic bias at the official level is a luxury Canada can ill afford. Ottawa has a free-trade agreement with the US, but if the new president wants to impose a double-digit tariff on everything that crosses into America, Canada would be dragged into an expensive, retaliatory trade war.

Veteran Conservative MP Randy Hoback wrote on his Substack that the Canada-U.S. relationship is too critical to be jeopardized by domestic political concerns. “Trudeau’s actions are hazardous to our economy and national security,” he said.

Trudeau’s current emissaries don’t speak the same language as Trump’s party. A real Team Canada needs to include some people, like Hoback, who can speak Republican.


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