From Russia to Israel to the U.K., world leaders are scrambling to adapt to Donald Trump’s America. But in Canada, liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is heading the other way, setting himself up in the role of anti-American gadfly, just like his father Pierre Trudeau did in the 1970s. In the weeks since Trump was elected, Trudeau has visited Havana, given $25 million to Hamas-linked NGOs in the Gaza Strip, and approved a Chinese take-over of a high-tech Canadian firm.
In the new book Trumping Trudeau, best-selling author Ezra Levant shows that on everything from carbon taxes to Iran, Canada’s liberal leader is setting himself up for a fight with Trump. That may score points at the United Nations, but it risks causing a rift between two great nations with the closest economic, military and cultural ties in the world.
Justin Trudeau hates Donald Trump.
Trudeau’s whole team does — his MPs, his cabinet ministers, his campaign staff. They know they shouldn’t say so publicly, but they just can’t help themselves.
To be fair, many Canadian politicians — even some conservatives — disparaged Trump as he fought his way to the top of the Republican Party, and then through the most brutal presidential election campaign in memory. All the critics thought disparaging Trump was an easy way to score points — taking pot-shots at a man everyone agreed had no chance of winning.
But Trudeau turned Trump-bashing into an art form. His Liberal Party even used Trump as fodder for fundraising campaigns, right until the end.
In late September 2016 — just six weeks before the U.S. election — the Liberals sent out a massive e-mail blast to party supporters, demonizing Trump and praising Hillary Clinton. The subject of the Liberal e-mail was, rather bizarrely, the presidential debate in the U.S. But the letter was much more than a partisan endorsement of Clinton. It was a demonization of Trump, an attempt to turn his very name into an insult to blacken Trudeau’s political opponents at home. “Hope or fear? Diversity or division? Openness and inclusion, or turning our backs on the world?” read the fundraising letter. “This kind of negative, divisive politics builds walls between Canadians — and it shows us all how much is at stake.” It was one of several Trump-bashing e-mails Trudeau sent out, so it must have been a financial success.
Trudeau didn’t hide his contempt in under-the-radar fundraising e-mails to the party faithful. He made a campaign-style visit in New York City — at the United Nations, right across the street from Trump World Tower — to bash Trump’s campaign platform in his own home town.
Trudeau didn’t mention Trump by name at that UN speech on September 20, but his spin doctors made sure every sleepy journalist knew who he was talking about. It was Trudeau returning the favour for Hillary Clinton, whose campaign staff had been an integral part of his own election just one year before.
“When leaders are faced with citizens’ anxiety, we have a choice to make. Do we exploit that anxiety or do we allay it?” asked Trudeau. “Exploiting it is easy.”
Trudeau took special aim at Trump’s plans for increased vetting of Muslim immigrants. “Because what is the alternative? To exploit anxiety? To turn it into fear and blame? To reject others because they look, or speak, or pray differently than we do? You see, in Canada we got a very important thing right. Not perfect, but right. In Canada, we see diversity as a source of strength, not weakness.”
Perhaps Trudeau was channeling his mentor, former prime minister Jean Chrétien, who was so confident in a Clinton win, that he was bashing Trump in late October, mere days before the election.
“When Hillary had pneumonia, there are pills to help you against pneumonia, but apparently there is no pill against something like stupidity,” he said. Chrétien called Trump “unbelievable,” and said he was “taking away the dignity of public life.”
When the new boss and the old boss of the Liberal Party feel comfortable disparaging the Republican candidate, it’s no surprise that so many other Liberals joined the fray.
Roland Paris, a senior foreign policy advisor to Trudeau, called Trump “odious.” Scott Brison, the president of Canada’s Treasury Board, mocked Trump’s “toupee.” Carolyn Bennett, Trudeau’s Indian Affairs minister, tweeted that it was “concerning” that some Americans had voted in advance polls, before a decade-old audio tape of Trump’s locker-room talk with a U.S. journalist was released. Bennett is a busy cabinet minister, in charge of the welfare of more than 600 Indian reserves. But she made time to become a self-styled U.S. political pundit, cheering along as late-night comedians mocked Trump, or as other Republicans criticized him, even claiming that Trump bragged about “sexually assaulting women.”
That extreme allegation was picked up by Trudeau himself, who did a press scrum where he used the phrases “sexual harassment” and “violence against women” when asked about “the issue of the American election.”
With Trudeau practically accusing Trump of rape, other cabinet ministers’ comments seem pale by comparison. John McCallum, the immigration minister, trumpeted support for Canada’s open-door policy towards Syrian refugees, while bashing Trump’s plans. Trudeau himself went on the CBS show 60 Minutes to criticize Trump’s immigration plans, which he described as “big walls and oppressive policies.”
But even that sort of language wasn’t critical enough for some. Journalist Rosemary Barton flew down to Washington, D.C., with Trudeau in 2016 as the campaign was heating up. Barton asked: “I’m wondering why you don’t speak out more forcefully against some of the things [Trump] has said, which run counter to anything you believe. Anti-Muslim rhetoric, anti-woman rhetoric, building walls against people — why don’t you say what you actually think about him?”
It’s presumptuous for a reporter to claim to know the secret thoughts of a political leader, but in Barton’s case, she probably did — Barton isn’t an independent journalist, but rather an employee of the CBC, Canada’s state broadcaster. She has a familiar way with Trudeau — the two of them famously posed for a fan/hero selfie shot before the interview was filmed.
Perhaps Barton was simply looking to make some news, like her private-sector competitors at Maclean’s magazine did. When they asked him about Trump, Trudeau called it “the politics of division, the politics of fear, the politics of intolerance or hateful rhetoric. If we allow politicians to succeed by scaring people, we don’t actually end up any safer. Fear doesn’t make us safer. It makes us weaker.”
That’s not a politician going rogue, or forgetting his lines. That’s what Trudeau really feels. Or as Trudeau’s life-long friend, mentor and principal secretary, Gerald Butts, put it so subtlely on Twitter, “I wonder how many people are searching the world’s databases for a picture of Trump and Duke right now.” As in, David Duke.
That’s a level of partisanship that is rare for politicians of one country to use to comment about politicians in another — let alone for senior Canadian officials to use to describe a major party’s presidential candidate. It speaks of a deep personal and political connection between Canada’s Liberal Party and the U.S. Democrats.
The Democrats have gone through their various stages of grief since November 8 — from staging street protests against the election result, to filing legal recounts in key states, to blaming everyone from the FBI to the KGB. Most Democrats have now made their peace with Donald Trump becoming president; but the Canadian wing of the Democrats — called the Liberal Party of Canada — hasn’t got the memo. Like Japanese soldiers in the Philippine jungles still holding out hope for a victory years after Tokyo’s surrender, there’s something admirable about the undying loyalty Trudeau and company have for the Clintons. But if they don’t keep that passion tamped down deep inside, it’s going to hurt Canada.
Trouble is, the anti-Trump insults that Trudeau and his cronies said during the U.S. election campaign have turned into anti-Trump actions that Trudeau has ordered the Canadian government to do.
In the weeks after Trump’s win, Trudeau visited Cuba and posed for pictures with Raul Castro, and sent a Canadian navy ship on a friendship mission to the island nation for the first time in more than 50 years. He announced $25 million in foreign aid to Gaza, which is run by the terrorist group Hamas. And he praised China’s Communist leaders, even as tawdry reports of unethical fundraising by Chinese billionaires dominated Canadian headlines.
Weeks after Trump’s election, Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, flew to a conference in California, where she crowed about the Canadian election and told U.S. executives to move to Canada — with their jobs. It was a provocative statement to make, given Trump’s focus on repatriating jobs to the U.S.
It’s possible for this sort of sniping to be buried in the past. Trump surprised many pundits, who had called him thin-skinned, by reaching out to former Republican rivals like Mitt Romney and Nikki Haley in the weeks after the election, and even to partisan Democrats from Al Gore to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the chief investor in The New York Times. Trump may be easily offended, but he appears to be able to quickly patch thing up, too. The real question is: do Trudeau and the Liberals actually want a working relationship with Trump — or do they prefer to use him as a punching bag for their own political purposes?