This was the Justin Trudeau many Canadians were waiting for.
After more than a year of carefully choosing his words, a visibly frustrated prime minister finally took off his gloves and stood up to U.S. President Donald Trump with pointed criticism in a bid to defend Canadian workers in the face of U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.
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“Yes, it was balanced, it was moderate, it was Canadian, but I think he should’ve gone up and said: I am f****** pissed,” Buckley told Yahoo Canada.
Born in Saskatchewan, the George Mason University law professor knows Trump better than most, and while he says it’s “absolutely stupid” for the U.S. to pick a trade war with Canada, he doesn’t believe the Trudeau game plan of killing Americans with kindness has had much of an effect.
“The soft-spoken, quiet diplomacy of Canada gets you nowhere,” Buckley explained. “It’s a matter of saying ‘this is bloody stupid, you are hurting yourself, let me show you how.'”
Why Canada and not China?
Trudeau has made several trips to the U.S. since NAFTA renegotiation talks began last August, but Buckley says aside from a motorcade crash in California, there’s been little to no news about his travels. And years of lacklustre Canadian defence spending, much of it well before the Trudeau Liberals entered office, has made the country “something of a zero” on the world stage, according to Buckley.
“Canada doesn’t perceive the need for a great military because after all, who’s going to attack it? … On the other hand, you have in the United States an administration that looks at national defence issues and trade issues in the same way.”
“For a person who ran as the jobs president, it’s absolutely stupid to pick a war with Canada.” – Frank Buckley
That’s why the Trump administration has been going easy on China amid talks with North Korea, but they’ve been pulling no punches with their northern neighbour, the dual U.S. and Canadian citizen explained.
“Canada has absolutely nothing to add to the United States in terms of national defence. China does,” Buckley said.
The U.S. president hasn’t been shy about his disdain for Canadian trade policies. On Friday, Trump blasted Canada for being “highly restrictive on trade” and treating U.S. farming and agriculture workers “very poorly for a very long time.”
“They must open their markets and take down their trade barriers,” he tweeted.
Canada has treated our Agricultural business and Farmers very poorly for a very long period of time. Highly restrictive on Trade! They must open their markets and take down their trade barriers! They report a really high surplus on trade with us. Do Timber & Lumber in U.S.?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 1, 2018
“For a person who ran as the jobs president, it’s absolutely stupid to pick a war with Canada,” Buckley admitted. However, U.S. midterm elections are just five months away and there’s no doubt Trump would like to see his Republican party keep its majority in the House and Senate.
For the American leader, that likely means doing whatever it takes to appeal to his base.
“The soft-spoken, quiet diplomacy of Canada gets you nowhere.” – Frank Buckley
A January 2017 headline from the Detroit Free Press put it bluntly: “The Rust Belt gave Trump victory, now they want jobs in return.” Many of these Rust Belt voters are in states near the border and Trump has spoken about their issues with Canada.
“Canada, what they’ve done to our daily farm workers, is a disgrace,” Trump said in April 2017. “Our farmers in Wisconsin and New York state are being put out of business.”
Time for a change of strategy?
It also doesn’t help that the personalities of these two world leaders appear to be polar opposites.
Buckley says politically-correct comments, like the one Trudeau made when he said “peoplekind,” don’t help the prime minister’s reputation in the White House. He also acknowledges the Liberals may have made a tactical mistake by pushing for gender equality protections in the renegotiated NAFTA.
“The prime minister is not treated with a great deal of respect; not thought to be a person who deserves respect,” Buckley insisted. “A country that is going to elect a guy like that is not a country that deserves a great deal of attention.”
What Trudeau should’ve said
So what would appeal to Trump’s senses as Canada seeks a fair trade deal with its largest trading partner and closest ally?
“An expression of anger,” Buckley said. Here’s what he thinks the Canadian leadership should be saying:
“You guys have helped the world but we have helped you. We have never sponged on you. And this is how you’re treating us?”
With thousands of jobs potentially on the line, and a federal election a little more than a year away, is it finally time for the the Trudeau Liberals to abandon their “sunny ways” mindset? In order to get a fair trade deal with the current U.S. leadership, there may not be another option.