What Trudeau lost when Trump won
Will Liberals still be taking tactical tips from Democrats in 2019?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President-elect Donald Trump may not have much in common, but they do seem to agree on one matter of media management: You can’t ignore the New York Times.
Trump sat down with the Times today, just two weeks after his still-reverberating election victory. Trudeau did his interview with the Times within a week of being sworn into office last November, even before he’d done many sit-downs with major Canadian media outlets.
That’s where the similarities end, however. While Trump has been sending out lots of early warnings that he won’t be all that accommodating to the U.S. media — even the Times — Trudeau has been going out of his way to court friendly coverage south of the border since the moment he came to power a year ago. It was a key plank of his foreign policy: Canada tying its fate, visibly and deliberately, to having friends in high places in Washington.
We may see those efforts redoubled — or radically revised — now that Trudeau is about to lose all the Democratic friends he was cultivating through his so-called “bromance” with Barack Obama.
Let’s face it: No matter how many times the prime minister said that he would work with whoever won the U.S. presidential election, Trump’s victory cast a whole new light on this business of Obama “passing the torch” to Trudeau. As far as I could see, from a distance, no flammable items changed hands when Obama and Trudeau held their final official get-together in Peru last weekend.
The world may well need another progressive champion of the liberal left now that Obama is leaving and Trump is moving into the Oval Office, but many international outlets seem to have decided last week that this job fell to Germany’s Angela Merkel, not Trudeau.
“Mrs. Merkel appears to be the last remaining world leader of stature to defend the West’s liberal values against the likes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” The Economist wrote. “As Obama Exits World Stage, Angela Merkel May Be the Liberal West’s Last Defender,” the Times itself said in its headline.
Even Canada’s own Globe and Mail appears to have forgotten all this talk of progressive torch-passing from Obama to Trudeau. “Angela Merkel seen as the great champion of Western liberalism,” the Globe pronounced last weekend. The obvious conclusion to draw from this world media consensus is that Canada, for whatever reason, isn’t powerful enough to carry on any legacy passed to it by Obama, no matter how many state dinners and adoring media mentions Trudeau has collected in the U.S. over the past year.
So what now? Does Trudeau keep up his charm offensive with the Americans, or start playing defence?
Everything about Trump is too unpredictable to allow for forecasts about how he’ll get along with Trudeau. Who knows? The two might bond over their fondness for social media and using it to win votes and attention — a shared trait noted on these pages both before and after the election.
But the question remains: If Trudeau had so much to gain from his much-sought-after relationship with Obama and the Democrats, what has he lost? The Trans-Pacific Partnership is one obvious answer; Trump put it on his hit list in a YouTube news release on Monday night. But it’s not clear that the TPP would have survived a Hillary Clinton presidency either, given the highly protectionist mood that prevailed during election season.
On matters of political logistics, one has to wonder whether the Liberals will be so closely working with U.S. Democrats in the leadup to the next election — or at least as closely as they were in the 2015 campaign.
Will we see Democratic strategists on stage at the next Liberal convention, invited to trade vote-getting tactics with Canadians, as they were in Winnipeg last May?
I notice too that the Liberals haven’t been sending out many fundraising emails lately with an anti-Trump bent to them, as they were a month or so ago. Actually, the pace of emails from the Liberals seems to have slowed altogether in the last couple of weeks — perhaps indicating that everyone is doing some serious stock-taking in Canada after Trump’s surprise victory.
No one ever said that Canadian prime ministers and American presidents must be close friends to keep Canada-U.S. relations on an even keel. But Trudeau and his team invested a lot of time and attention in that very relationship over the past year, which means we’re right to ask now about what that investment has yielded.
Liberals may well argue that some of that investment will survive the serious shaking-up that Trump has planned for Washington. But Trudeau’s own government has demonstrated over the past year how easy it is to dismantle a previous government’s legacy. If Trump radically dumps the Obama legacy as easily as Trudeau bid adieu to the Stephen Harper years, how much of the past year’s improvement in Canada-U.S. relations will be undone too? These are, no doubt, questions that are keeping people busy in the PMO, Global Affairs and International Trade right now.
The answers will emerge more clearly after Trump’s inauguration in January — or before then, perhaps in a U.S. media outlet. After all, neither Trump nor Trudeau seems inclined to avoid American media attention.
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