The Hamilton Spectator

Liberals playing the Trump card


When Donald Trump moved into the White House six years ago, Justin Trudeau hit the road in Canada, holding town-hall meetings with rank-and-file Canadians in a bid to keep Trump-style populism at bay in this country.

Trump’s out of power, but Trudeau’s back on the road this month, carrying warnings that the former president haunts this government still — now in the form of Conservati­ve Leader Pierre Poilievre.

It is noteworthy, in fact, how many times Liberals have evoked the ghost of Trump to denounce Poilievre this past week.

On Wednesday, the prime minister taunted Poilievre as someone who wanted to “build a wall” at the Canada-U.S. border to stem the flow of refugeseek­ers at Roxham Road in Quebec — echoes of Trump’s promise to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

On Tuesday, when a Commons committee was discussing possible election interferen­ce by China in the last federal campaign, Liberal MP Jennifer O’Connell accused Conservati­ves of trying to undermine democracy with “Trump-type tactics.” At the same time that day, Trudeau was in Brampton, talking to carpenters and saying Poilievre was following Trump’s tactics of whipping up unrest among the citizens.

The most obvious explanatio­n for this Trump fixation can be found in recent polls, showing Conservati­ves ahead and Liberals trailing behind. The latest Abacus Data numbers, released this week, show Poilievre’s team maintainin­g an eightpoint lead over Trudeau’s Liberals.

In other words, Trump was once Trudeau’s biggest problem. Now it’s Poilievre, and the Liberals hope to consign him to the same fate as the former president.

All these pointed references to Trump stand in sharp contrast to last week’s final report of the Rouleau commission into the so-called “Freedom Convoy” that landed in Canada a year ago.

Last February, many people were drawing comparison­s between the siege of Ottawa and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrecti­on on Capitol Hill in the U.S. as evidence Trump’s brand of militant populism had taken hold in Canada. Poilievre’s flirtation with the convoyeurs sealed in many Liberals’ minds that Conservati­ves were taking their cues from Trump.

Rouleau’s report, all 2,000plus pages of it, was conspicuou­sly silent on whether the convoy had drawn its inspiratio­n from south of the border. The commission­er did note the extent of U.S. financial contributi­ons to the convoy cause: nine per cent of the donations to GoFundMe; 51 per cent to “Adopt a Truck” and 59 per cent to GiveSendGo. But Rouleau’s final report steered well clear of connecting the dots between Jan. 6 in the U.S. and the “Freedom Convoy” in Canada.

Into that vacuum, Trudeau and his Liberals are deliberate­ly treading this week, trying to lay the groundwork for some future electoral battle against Poilievre, casting him as the guy who wants to bring Trumpism to Canada — whether that’s in immigratio­n policy, whipping up populist discontent or even delegitimi­zing democracy.

The gamble here is that Canadians may be tired of Trudeau — but that Trump, or even Trump-lite, remains a scarier prospect. Additional­ly, Abacus polling keeps showing Poilievre remains a bit of an unknown commodity to many Canadians now. So Liberals may be trying to define the new leader before he gets a chance to do it himself.

In a few weeks, Joe Biden will be visiting Canada. He and Trudeau will have a lot to discuss, including the situation at Roxham Road. They might also discuss something else they have in common — an inability to shake themselves of Trump and the ongoing threat his brand of politics poses to progressiv­e leaders like Biden and Trudeau.

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