What Trudeau could do to counter Trump

Prime min­is­ter says ac­tions speak louder than words

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT -

When it comes to deal­ing with Don­ald Trump, Justin Trudeau is right to say ac­tions speak louder than words. Now all the prime min­is­ter has to do is act. Up to now, Trudeau has avoided slag­ging the new U.S. pres­i­dent. There is no rea­son for him to change strat­egy.

At­tack­ing Trump for his de­ci­sion to bar cit­i­zens of seven Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tions from entering the U.S. might win Trudeau points at home. But it won’t have any prac­ti­cal ef­fect.

But there are ac­tions Ottawa could take in its own do­main to counter the worst of Trump­ism.

On the refugee front, Canada could qui­etly ac­cept more. The New Democrats are call­ing on the gov­ern­ment to lift the cap on pri­vately spon­sored refugees. The Con­ser­va­tives seem to agree.

This is a rel­a­tively easy re­sponse to Trump’s de­ci­sion to im­pose a 120-day ban on refugees entering the U.S. And it can be ac­com­plished with­out men­tion­ing Trump’s name.

Sim­i­larly, Ottawa could sus­pend the so­called safe third-coun­try agree­ment it has with Washington. This agree­ment lim­its the right of refugees al­ready in the U.S. to seek asy­lum in Canada, the as­sump­tion be­ing they are al­ready in a safe place.

If the Trudeau gov­ern­ment truly be­lieves the U.S un­der Trump has be­come anti-refugee, sus­pend­ing this agree­ment and al­low­ing more to ap­ply for asy­lum at the bor­der would be a prac­ti­cal way to help.

Tor­ture? Trump has talked of re­in­stat­ing the prac­tice, one which Canada’s gov­ern­ment of­fi­cially de­cries.

But in­stead of wring­ing their hands, why don’t the Lib­er­als re­voke the min­is­te­rial di­rec­tives is­sued un­der the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment that al­low Canada’s se­cu­rity agen­cies to share in­for­ma­tion with coun­tries that use tor­ture?

Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale, who has called these di­rec­tives “trou­bling,” says they are un­der re­view. But he’s been say­ing that for more than a year.

It’s time for the re­view to end and the tor­ture di­rec­tives to be scrapped.

Even be­fore Trump’s elec­tion vic­tory, Trudeau adopted a po­si­tion of care­ful neu­tral­ity to­wards the re­al­ity tele­vi­sion star. This was both wise and fit­ting. Amer­i­cans have the right to elect as pres­i­dent whomever they want — no mat­ter how lu­di­crous he or she might seem to the out­side world.

But the re­quire­ments of cour­tesy need not stop Canada from ad­vanc­ing its own in­ter­ests. And if those in­ter­ests in­clude mea­sures that run counter to Trumpian xeno­pho­bia, then so be it.

Some ad­vise that the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment do noth­ing that might give Trump of­fence. They fear that if Canada comes un­der the pres­i­dent’s ma­lign gaze, he might pun­ish us by, for in­stance, driv­ing an un­usu­ally hard bar­gain in the rene­go­ti­a­tion of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment.

This view, I sus­pect, does Trump an in­jus­tice. He will al­most cer­tainly drive an im­pos­si­bly hard bar­gain on NAFTA no mat­ter what. Suck­ing up won’t help.

None of this means the prime min­is­ter need aban­don his sunny de­meanour. He can and should con­tinue to be as po­lite as pos­si­ble to­wards the man our Amer­i­can friends chose to lead their coun­try.

But there are things the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment can do to thwart the worst el­e­ments of the na­tivism as­so­ci­ated with Trump. In­deed, some have noth­ing to do with the U.S. pres­i­dent.

Trudeau could, for in­stance, wade into Que­bec’s cul­tural iden­tity bat­tle and take on Bill 62, which would ban those serv­ing the pub­lic from wear­ing face cov­er­ings, such as niqabs, at work.

In the wake of the Que­bec City mosque mas­sacre, that might be a use­ful thing for a Cana­dian prime min­is­ter wor­ried about the spread of in­tol­er­ance to talk about. More use­ful, cer­tainly, than scor­ing cheap points by at­tack­ing Don­ald Trump.

Thomas Walkom’s col­umn ap­pears in Torstar news­pa­pers.

THOMAS WALKOM

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