Before he was elected Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau faced a consistent type of criticism from his opponents: he was too young and too eager to please, conservatives said. His economic plans added up to “unicorns and rainbows.” He did not have the gravitas to represent Canada internationally.
But President Trump has helped bring together the most bitter of Canadian enemies, as he lashed out at Trudeau following the Group of Seven meeting in Quebec, and even the country’s most staunch conservatives have publicly backed up their Liberal prime minister for taking a tough tone in the U.S.-Canada trade conflict.
“I think sometimes, you know, you have to tell the schoolyard bully that they can’t have your lunch money. And I think that’s what the prime minister did today,” said Jaime Watt, a Toronto-based conservative political strategist. “I think most Canadians would say that they were proud of their prime minister.”
.. Who knows what to do with Trump? Nobody knows what to do with him. His own people don’t know what to do.”
.. Trudeau repeated a certain comment, saying Canada was “polite” but “will not be pushed around.”
.. Trump took the second such comment, made in a news conference after the Quebec meeting, badly. In a tweet, he depicted Trudeau as two-faced, saying the prime minister had been “meek and mild” during the meetings, only to lash out afterwards. “Very dishonest & weak,” he tweeted.
Perhaps some of the falling-out boils down to a misunderstanding of Canadian etiquette, said Bruce Heyman, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada — “especially for somebody who’s coming from the world that [Trump] is coming from, and has been so blunt and so confrontational in his conversations and approaches.”
Canadians, Heyman said, “are collaborators who try to find paths to solutions.” It could be easy for someone to misread them, “not taking them seriously or not understanding the resolve they have.”
.. I think he’s trying to make an example of Canada. Canada’s a small, super-friendly ally . . . and I think he’s just kind of sending a message to the rest of the world: ‘If we can treat the Canadian this way, you ain’t seen nothing yet in terms of what might be coming your way.’ ”
.. Trudeau has two good reasons to change his tone now, Hampson said: First, the NAFTA talks are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Second, the next federal Canadian election is next year.
“I think he and his government feel under some pressure to talk tough and to do so publicly.”
.. “I’m not sure if it’s been niceness,” he said. “It’s been more cordial — cordial and businesslike.”
.. “I think that Canadians do pride themselves on an international image where we’re seen as being cordial, friendly and even-handed in terms of trying to get along with other states,” he said.
.. “The reality is that even under the best of circumstances, Canada is a middle power and, you know, when you’re a middle power, you have to get along with larger powers. You’re not necessarily going to get along with larger powers by aggressively attacking them.”
.. But Canadians have also supported tougher stances in the past, when there’s a principled reason for taking them