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Jess Frampton

Why is Justin Trudeau still prime minister?

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went to Port Colborne, Ontario, last week for a good news announcement about an EV battery plant, he probably expected to get a bit of credit for it. Instead, a reporter reminded him that he’s 20 points behind the Conservatives in the polls.

“The public appears to have an overwhelmingly negative view of you personally,” Globe and Mail reporter Laura Stone said, “and you seem to have lost control of the conversation on some of the key issues that Canadians care about. I think the public might be looking at you and your position right now and thinking ‘For the good of the Liberal Party, why is he staying on?’”

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US President Joe Biden

Yuri Gripas/ABACAPRESS

Israel-Gaza policy shapes US and Canadian politics and elections

President Joe Biden is facing pressure as House Republicans press for a bill to chastise the administration for its Isreal policy, despite White House plans to go ahead with a $1 billion arms deal for the Jewish state.

What likely concerns Biden more than Republican censure, however, are the Gen Z voters — upset with his support for Israel — who may decide to park their votes elsewhere, or simply stay home on Election Day. Foreign policy crises like this are the last thing Biden’s approval rating needs.

North of the border, increasingly unpopular Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing a similar challenge as younger voters, activists, and Muslim voters consider abandoning the governing Liberals even after the government adopted a partial arms embargo on Israel.

Biden and Trudeau’s best hope is that while voters, especially younger ones, care about Gaza, it may not be their central issue of concern. Most young voters, and voters of all ages, care more about the economy and cost of living. Still, it may not matter for Trudeau, who is as many as 20 points behind Conservative opponent Pierre Poilievre, or Biden, who polls eight points behind Trump on the economy.

Jess Frampton

While Biden leans in for moderates, Trudeau plays his greatest progressive hits

Comedian Bill Maher sees Canada as a cautionary tale for the United States, or perhaps more particularly for President Joe Biden.

“Yes, you can move too far left. When you do, you end up pushing the people in the middle to the right,” he said on a recent edition of his HBO show, “Real Time.”

Maher’s central contention was that the US doesn’t have much to learn from Canada on immigration, the economy, or “extreme wokeness.”

Biden most likely agrees.

Maher’s point speaks to an emerging divergence between the president and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, driven by their respective electoral imperatives.

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photo of total solar eclipse

Totality fails to eclipse politics

The moon blotted out the sun across much of North America on Monday, but it did not put politics entirely out of mind.

Conservatives on both sides of the border used the occasion to compare their champion to the moon, blotting out the incumbent sun, while incumbents merely marveled at the moment.

In the United States, Donald Trump released an odd ad on his Truth Social network in which his face blotted out the sun. In Canada, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre just posted a photo of the moment, but one of his MPs posted an image showing a smiling Poilievre eclipsing Trudeau.

Meanwhile, Fox News issued a warning that the eclipse might make it easier for migrants to cross into the United States.

Justin Trudeau posted a video of himself taking in the sight from the roof of his office while Joe Biden posted a safety warning, a subtle reminder, perhaps, of the time, in 2017, when Trump gazed directly into an eclipse, which is said to be unwise.

Former President Donald Trump attends the 2024 Senior Club Championship award ceremony at his Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, March 24, 2024.

REUTERS/Marco Bello

Preparing for Trump 2.0

Alongside dealing with inflation, war, AI and hyper-polarizing politics — a full cart of problems already — every US ally and opponent are also busily drawing up their Preparing For Trump (PFT) playbook. What happens if Trump 2.0 cancels trade deals? What if he pulls out of NATO? Will he use nuclear bombs? Will US isolationism cede global influence to China and Russia? Could reliable, prosperous, long-standing alliances and treaties… collapse?

This week, a colleague and I had an interesting meeting with a senior Canadian minister and PFT was the main topic. Of all countries, Canada has one of the most successful past playbooks, based on the successful renegotiation of the NAFTA deal in Donald Trump’s first term. Remember that gilded time, in 2017, when Justin Trudeau had a hot political minute playing the role of “Trump Whisperer”? His Team Canada, backed by another Trump Whisperer — former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who sadly just passed away — poured their maple syrup charms up and down the Beltway and it worked. But here’s the question: Is that playbook still relevant?

The short answer? No.

First off, the Trudeau and Trump bromance ended in ashes. By 2018, at the G7 summit in Canada, Trump was calling Trudeau “very dishonest and weak.” A year later, Trump said his northern neighbor was “two faced,” so let’s just say there were no invitations to go golfing.

Trump carries a grudge the way Thor wields a hammer — so expect carnage if Trudeau is still in power when the new trade deal is renegotiated in 2026.

That leaves the other key PFT route: The Logic of Mutually Beneficial Trade. The strategy, as the minister explained to me, is to play the economic hits, just like last time.

  • Canada is the US’s largest trading partner: US exports to Canada surpassed $307 Billion in 2021, while imports from Canada were $357.2 billion.
  • The US imports more oil from Canada than anywhere else.
  • The largest market for key swing states like Michigan? Canada.
  • Critical minerals and the AI future: Canada can weaken China’s dominance of the critical mineral supply chain with reliable sources of lithium, nickel, graphite and rare earth minerals.

And on it goes. In other words, these are powerful, rational arguments in favor of open trade and against protectionism and Buy America that have the benefit of truth. On a state level these arguments are still effective, and might still be convincing to members of Congress. But as my colleague pointed out to the minister — what if rational arguments like these don’t work for the Trump administration?

The first Trump administration was, like all presidencies, a mixture of political ideology and political policy, with the president surrounded by advisors who acted as guardrails to his impulsive aggressions. They kept the alliances intact. That’s no longer the case. Those internal guards have been purged in favor of hardened partisans running a permanent war room campaign that has a strong animating force: Revenge. Just this past week Trump’s own Truth Social media channel raised billions of dollars, feeding a media ecosystem that insulates him and his team from any uncomfortable intrusions of facts that might upend his self-reinforcing political narrative. Political appetites will devour logical policymaking. So, what is the strategy in that scenario?

In 2024, PFT means trying to find a way to give Trump something that he can publicly claim as a “win,” without looking weak to your own voters.

And what is that?

Jobs.

But trying to simultaneously create jobs in America without selling out your own industries is a political magic trick most foreign leaders have yet to master, and one they may not want to. That is the challenge to the Team Canada folks who are crafting the PFT and to every country doing the same thing.

The only bright side? They had practice over the last three years. President Joe Biden has proven equally protectionist on many industries and the same arguments apply to him, only it’s much more behind closed doors, which makes the negotiations easier.

Maybe the PFT industry is why Trump supporters say he’s so effective. Before he’s even in power, he already has the upper hand. His threat of over-the-top retaliations has effectively put the US in a stronger negotiating position on trade, security and diplomacy — and he’s not yet in office. His plausible threat to collapse the status quo is his most effective negotiating tool. It may make for less trustworthy alliances, weaker international treaties and a more dangerous, less prosperous world, but it fulfills the number one Trump promise to his supporters: America First.

The casket of late former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is carried by pallbearers following his state funeral at the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, Quebec, Canada March 23, 2024.

REUTERS/Evan Buhler

Trade champion laid to rest

The Canada-US trade relationship lost its greatest champion when former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was laid to rest in Montreal on Saturday.

Mulroney was the architect of the original Canada-US free trade deal, which he and President Ronald Reagan signed in 1988. He negotiated the NAFTA agreement, which extended the arrangement to Mexico, although it was signed by Prime Minister Jean Chretien and President Bill Clinton in 1994. Then, after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, who threatened to tear up the deal, Mulroney played a key behind-the-scenes role in helping keep the negotiations between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Trump’s team from going off the rails.

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Valeria Murguia, 21, a university student, poses for a photograph in a field near her home in McFarland, California, U.S., December 17, 2020.

REUTERS/Brandon Bell

The kids aren't alright

Last week, when the World Happiness Report landed in the inbox of La Presse reporter Vincent Brousseau-Pouliot, he contacted Professor John F. Helliwell, of the University of British Columbia, to ask him about the happiness of Quebecers. Professor Helliwell, who has helped produce the annual report since 2012, typically doesn’t crunch numbers at the subnational level — but he was intrigued by Brousseau-Pouliot’s question and had a look. He discovered that Quebecers are very happy. Quebec would be sixth happiest country in the world — well ahead of Canada and the US.

The discovery gave Brousseau-Pouliot a scoop, and got Professor Helliwell thinking: What makes Quebec different? Is it just joie de vivre?

Miserable youth. The big news in the report this year is not who is at the top — the cheerful Finns and their Nordic neighbors are still the happiest countries in the world — but a dramatic increase of misery among the young in English-speaking Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand.

In most of the world, as long as Professor Helliwell and his colleagues have been studying this, young people are happier than their parents and grandparents. In recent years, though, there has been a dramatic shift to misery among the young in the anglosphere, which is driving down the overall score. The US, which was the eleventh happiest country in 2012, is now twenty-third. Canada, which was fifth in 2012, is now fifteenth.

Older people in both countries are upbeat. For over 60s, Canada ranks eighth and the US tenth. But for under 30s, Canada ranks 58th and the US 62nd. This misery among the young is unprecedented, and has huge political implications — unhappy people are typically less likely to vote for incumbents.

That’s a serious challenge for both President Joe Biden, who faces an election in November, and for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is expected to seek re-election next year. If they lose the youth vote, they’re both toast. Almost two thirds of voters 18-24 voted for Biden last time, while Trudeau got about a third of the youth vote. In both countries, that was more votes than the margin of victory.

Consider the culture. What is making young North Americans so glum? Commentators have pointed to the pandemic, climate change and the rising cost of living. But those factors are as much a part of the lives of young Quebecers as those in the anglosphere. The Quebec exception makes Professor Helliwell wonder if something else is at work here.

“This isn't happening all over the world,” he says. “And it's chiefly in Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand, so we began to think it had to be something to do with the information feeds, or the life circumstances of those people relative to their peers in the rest of the world.”

Helliwell wonders if an increased perception of social conflict — the result of rising discord in social media platforms and the fragmentation of media sources — is making young people unhappy. As social media has reduced the personal interactions of young people, they may perceive the world as more hostile and full of conflict than it is.

“In the absence of personal contacts, it’s what you read, what you hear. And it's possible that social media are amplifying that. I don't have any very direct evidence of that, but it certainly makes sense,” he says.

A broken promise of online prosperity. Pollster Frank Graves, of EKOS Research Associates Inc., is alarmed by the sharp rise in misery among young Canadians, particularly by how gloomy they are about their long-term prospects. A root is the failure of the economic promise of the Internet, which was supposed to offer young people a ticket to a golden future.

“It didn't happen,” he says. “It was a hoax. So not only is it the toxicity of algorithm-driven information and all this other bullshit, it's a whole economic model that didn't work.”

Graves thinks that in addition to economic explanations, it’s necessary to consider research that shows the mental health issues caused by young people spending so much time on social media via their phones, as Jonathan Haidt argues.

Whatever the cause, the youth malaise is giving headaches to the strategists behind Biden and Trudeau’s campaigns. Does that mean that Biden and Trudeau are finished? The Canadian polling seems bad for Trudeau but the American polling is inconclusive and contradictory.

Graves, who has been polling elections for decades, thinks we will have to wait and see. The polling, at least in the US, looks murky. And he is not sure that despondency will motivate people to get rid of the incumbents.

“I don't think it makes you vote to get rid of the incumbent. I think it makes you not want to vote,” he says.


U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walk as they meet in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 24, 2023.

REUTERS/Patrick Doyle

Biden and Trudeau: Stay or go?

If there were a political soundtrack this week for President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it would likely be “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” from The Clash’s 1982 Combat Rock album. Both have been sloshing through terrible poll numbers and facing calls – from within their own houses – to step down. Should they? Are they both now liabilities to their parties?

Polls get pundits and populists panting, so let’s start today with this: Calm the heck down.

They are not going anywhere.

For now.

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