What Trudeau could do to counter Trump
Prime minister says actions speak louder than words
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.