Speaking to reporters outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he views his role as Prime Minister as being one where he advocates not only for Canadian "values" but also Canadian "interests" in reference to his long pause, and guarded comments, when it comes to the actions of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Whatever one thinks of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not just showing up at an anti-racism protest in Ottawa but also taking a knee, I think we can all agree that the last thing we need is U.S. President Donald Trump weighing in.
Just as Canadians can decide for themselves whether our prime minister has appropriately handled or responded to this or any other issue, the same is true for Americans and their president. It’s quite obvious that Trudeau and Trump are very different politicians and certainly there has been a sharp contrast between how the two have spoken about recent protests and broader issues around racism.
What is to be gained from having our prime minister directly calling out, criticizing, or rebuking the U.S. president? Very little, as far as I can see. Trudeau deserves credit for steering clear of doing so and his critics should perhaps give their heads a shake.
Make no mistake, I believe Trump is fully deserving of all sorts of criticism on all sorts of issues and is probably also deserving of a resounding defeat in November (mind you, I also think Trudeau is deserving of much criticism on a range of issues). There are plenty of Canadians with all sorts of opinions on Trump, but that doesn’t need to include the prime minister.
When it comes to matters affecting the Canada-U.S. relationship, there may indeed be moments where one leader is justified in publicly criticizing the other. It was certainly reasonable, for example, for Trudeau to speak out against the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump imposed on Canada.
Furthermore, it’s possible for the two leaders to disagree on matters without openly calling each other out. When Trudeau recently asserted his position that Russia should not be readmitted to the G7, it was obvious that he was taking a different position on the matter from Trump — he didn’t really need to add “so therefore Trump is wrong on this,” which would have been needlessly provocative.
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When it comes to domestic issues, though, we should adhere to the tradition of our respective leaders refraining from commenting directly. That should still apply even in a situation such as the one we’re confronted with at the moment.
As Trudeau appeared at the rally on Friday, he was greeted with chants of “stand up to Trump.” That came on the heels of a rather awkward moment earlier in the week when Trudeau took about 20 seconds to respond to a reporter’s question about why he wouldn’t comment directly on Trump’s call to deploy the military to deal with the protests or the manner in which protesters were cleared out of Washington D.C.’s Lafayette Square on Monday.
First of all, it is delusional to think that a public rebuking from Trudeau — or any other foreign leader — would convince Trump that he is in the wrong or that he needs to change course. If anything, it would likely cause Trump to double down. Furthermore, there’s likely a substantial number of Americans who may have their own reservations about how Trump has dealt with these issues, but would bristle at such blatant foreign interference.
The United States is and remains a democracy. Americans will be the ones to judge the president on how he has performed. Those concerned at Trump’s words or actions should take heart in the fact that many Americans seem less than impressed in how he has responded.
A condemnation from Trudeau would likely have little impact on public opinion but could have a significant impact on Canada-U.S. relations. It’s not worth it.
Moreover, this focus on what, if anything, Trudeau should say about or to Trump gives the prime minister a pass on the situation here at home. These protests happening in Canadian cities are not mere solidarity rallies — they’re meant to call attention to issues affecting us here in this country.
Instead of demanding Trudeau “stand up to Trump,” demand he do something about the situation in Canada. Leave the “standing up to Trump” to the Americans.
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