Canadian delegation witnesses first-hand divisions of Republican National Convention

Conservative Sen. David Wells, who is part of a Canadian delegation of parliamentarians at the Republican National Convention, says he met Donald Trump’s rival John Kasich in Cleveland. But it wasn’t at the convention.

The Newfoundland and Labrador senator, appointed in 2013 by Stephen Harper, was part of a delegation that also included NDP MP Charlie Angus, Liberal MP Wayne Easter and Conservative MP Phil McColeman.

Kasich ran for president this year, winning his home state of Ohio, but was steamrolled by Trump in the rest of the GOP nomination race. Yet despite the fact that he is the current governor of the convention’s host state, he has so far refused to endorse his party’s nominee.

In fact, he hasn’t even appeared at the convention. Instead, he’s been speaking in hotels, banquet halls and at other events around town, outside the convention security perimeter. Wells said he was able to bend the governor’s ear at one of those receptions.

They spoke in “general” about Canada’s trade relations with Ohio, he said in an interview with Yahoo Canada News, noting “Canada is one of Ohio’s main trading partners.” (Trade in goods totals $34 billion and Canada is Ohio’s primary customer, according to the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C.)

“These kinds of relationships are important at these kinds of events,” said Wells, in order to understand “what the positions are on issues that are important to Canada.”

Wells said the delegation members operated separately, as their schedule wasn’t co-ordinated to hold joint meetings. He was able to catch most of the speeches on Monday, the first day of the convention, and says he witnessed the chaos of the floor fight that erupted over party rules.

“It was clear that there was some discord on the convention floor, and Trump is a very polarizing figure,” Wells said.

“In politics, these sorts of divisions happen all the time; rarely are they this polarized within a party. That was very clear with what was happening on the floor.”

The speeches at the convention have so far drawn reactions from amusement to disgust right from Day 1, when “Happy Days” child star Scott Baio and “Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson spoke.

Wells said he was struck by how little policy the speeches contained.

“At this convention, it was less about policy, more about person. People got up and spoke about Trump, obviously, and Trump’s family spoke…and there were some B-list movie actors that spoke. But it was very light on policy and very strong on person.”

‘Bizarre’ convention

Angus, who flew back Thursday from Cleveland, was also struck by the speeches. He called them “bizarre.”

“There was no coherent narrative except ‘Donald’s a great guy, vote for him,’” Angus told Yahoo Candaa News.

“It did not seem to have a narrative for why the man should be president, or where we’re going, or anything. It was just a weird hodgepodge of rage against Hillary [Clinton], and people who were involved in the Trump financial empire.”

After a tense period of police killings and police shootings of unarmed black men in the United States, combined with Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican rhetoric, many were expecting violent clashes outside the Quicken Loans Arena where the convention has been taking place. Angus said he didn’t see that.

“The streets of Cleveland were fascinating because there were a lot of protests out there, but it did not seem to be the kind of tension that we were led to expect,” he said.

On Thursday morning, Angus tweeted a picture of a street scene in Cleveland. The photo is of two men, one holding a stylized U.S. flag with the peace symbol, the other holding a sign reading “Let’s kick some intolerant ass with compassion.”

“I liked that picture because it sort of summed up to me the diversity in America, and the fact that people were not just angry and raging, like they tended to be in the convention centre,” said Angus.

“Even with some of the very diverse and hardline political views against each other, out on the street, where I was, I never saw any confrontation.”

The delegation weren’t the only Canadian politicians at the convention. Former Harper government minister and current Conservative MP Tony Clement, who just launched a run for the leadership of his party, decided he would head to Cleveland.

Toronto Coun. John Filion was also there. He’s compared Ford Nation to Trump Nation, suggesting that supporters of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford were similar to Trump supporters.

Wells said he agreed.

Trump is “an antagonistic personality in his attacks on his political foes, be they his Republican challengers for the nomination or Clinton,” he said.

“And I think that’s kind of the language that you might have heard out of the Toronto mayor.”