Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Sorry Americans, Canada’s prime minister isn’t really standing up to Trump,

- writes JESSE BROWN

My prime minister, Justin Trudeau, enjoys a public image as the anti-Donald Trump. A young, sensitive, feminist, environmen­talist with a progressiv­e stance on marijuana, a welcoming attitude toward foreigners, and a glorious head of natural hair, he seems in every way the opposite of the U.S. president.

Mr. Trudeau’s golden personal brand dovetails beautifull­y with the ascendant brand of his country, and together they tell a winning story of Canada as a progressiv­e haven, singularly evolved past the populist forces of petty nationalis­m and xenophobia.

Each week brings a new version of this story. It’s a tale we Canadians have been telling ourselves for decades, but now Americans are telling it to one another. For a recent cover illustrati­on, the Economist put a maple leaf tiara on the statue of liberty. CNN contemplat­ed whether the American dream is now in fact the Canadian dream. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times anointed Canada the new leader of the free world. Brand Canada has now made it to Broadway, with “Come From Away” telling a heartwarmi­ng story of Canadian selflessne­ss on the world stage.

All this may fluff the self-esteem of needy Canadians while serving as a useful narrative for shellshock­ed American liberals desperate for a positive role model. But it’s a fantasy.

The truth is that Mr. Trudeau isn’t Canada’s answer to Donald Trump. He’s Canada’s answer to Barack Obama. Our habit isn’t to reject America. It’s to imitate you, a few years later and a few degrees milder. Just like you, we replaced a divisive old conservati­ve (Stephen Harper) with a young, feel-good centrist in progressiv­e clothing. Unlike you, we played it safe and went with a name-brand candidate — only in Canada could the son of a former prime minister be considered a transforma­tional leader.

The fantasy has overtaken the facts. Take the notion that Canada has supplanted America as sanctuary soil for the world’s huddled masses. After Mr. Trump’s first travel ban was announced, PBS and others reported that Justin Trudeau had vowed to take in refugees rejected by America. This was wrong and based solely on a misleading tweet Mr. Trudeau had posted a day after Mr. Trump’s executive order had been signed:

“To those fleeing persecutio­n, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToC­anada,” he posted.

Once the internatio­nal press had moved on, Mr. Trudeau’s immigratio­n minister quietly

explained that in fact nothing would change in terms of Canada’s refugee policy: Those who seek amnesty in Canada after being refused refugee status in the U.S. will be sent back to their countries of origin, their claims unheard. As for those inspiring photos you may have seen of a smiling Mountie hoisting a refugee child over the U.S. border, subsequent pictures of that same child and her parents being immediatel­y arrested exist, but proved less popular. Canada and the U.S. are now working together to crack down on the rising influx of desperate border crossers.

Even when Mr. Trudeau fails to spin the press, the press will do it for him. During his recent visit to the White House, a photo was snapped that seemed to depict Justin Trudeau looking down with revulsion at Mr. Trump’s extended hand. It went viral.

In reality, the moment after Mr. Trudeau gazed down at the president’s hand, he shook it vigorously, eagerly embracing Mr. Trump in many ways. His Washington visit concluded without the slightest pushback on any issue, and the two leaders quickly came to terms on the controvers­ial Keystone XL, a pipeline that will deliver the world’s dirtiest oil from Canada’s tar sands to U.S. markets. Mr. Trudeau was even willing to sprinkle some of his progressiv­e pixie dust onto Mr. Trump’s battered brand, working together on a hastily arranged and wholly ceremonial PR project about boosting female entreprene­urs. Hours after Mr. Trump surprised the world with a missile attack on Syria, Mr. Trudeau voiced his total support.

While America’s press celebrates Mr. Trudeau for seemingly thumbing his nose at Mr. Trump, Canadian media praise him for successful­ly ingratiati­ng himself with the president, skillfully avoiding opportunit­ies to bruise the Donald’s ego. Nervous Canadians who know their place want a smooth relationsh­ip with the giant next door, whatever the circumstan­ces.

Yet mere submission might not be enough. Canadians tend to demand emulation, and if our copycat trend continues, the electorate will eventually choose a Canadian Trump, just as it elected a Canadian Obama. It’s a plan well underway.

Leading the polls in the leadership race for Canada’s Conservati­ve Party is a reality television star who cultivates the persona of an obnoxious rich businessma­n. Sound familiar?

Americans may know Kevin O’Leary from ABC’s “Shark Tank.” Canadians have a decent chance of knowing him as our next prime minister.

Jesse Brown is the co-author of “The Canadaland Guide to Canada (Published in America).” This article first appeared in Slate.

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Daniel Marsula/Post-Gazette

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