If Canada is really back, it needs some backbone

Why won’t leaders in Ottawa speak out on Donald Trump?

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at the Saint Anselm College - New Hampshire Institute of Politics Auditorium in Manchester, NH on Monday June 13, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, Monday June 13, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

During the high-anxiety run-up to the shocking Brexit vote, it was hard to get a Canadian politician to shut up about it. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he made no “bones” about his support for the Remain side. Ministers Bill Morneau and Stéphane Dion spoke openly about the dire consequences of the U.K. leaving the European Union. Meanwhile, Conservative MP and former House Speaker Andrew Scheer felt compelled to write an article supporting the Leave position. It got to the point where a foreign political leader who didn’t intervene in the domestic politics of Britain looked downright irresponsible. But ask these same people to give their view on Donald Trump and they seize up faster than a Brussels bureaucrat can straighten a banana.

The issues are not dissimilar. The Brexit debate hinged on concerns about trade and economic prosperity, mixed with nativist fears about immigration, security and nationalism: Trump issues to the max. The U.K. is Canada’s third-biggest trading partner, and the vote will hurt our economy. But the U.S. is our largest partner, and Trump’s anti-NAFTA, anti-immigration, volcanic rhetoric poses a significantly higher threat to Canada’s free trade and stability. So if the dangers of the Brexit justified the intervention of Canada’s leaders, shouldn’t Trump?

Apparently not. If a good politician is someone with an opinion carefully prepared to contain no ideas, then Trump has made masters of Ottawa’s mandarins. “I have great faith in the American people and look forward to working with whoever gets elected in November,” Trudeau said when asked about Trump. Yawn. But understandable. In 1967, when Charles De Gaulle blurted out “Vive le Quebec libre,” English Canadians were ready to burn baguettes.

Loads of international law supports butting out of another sovereign state’s business, from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 to the UN principle of non-intervention. Respect for sovereign rights has been the cornerstone of peacemaking and globalized trade, but the world has moved beyond the dated concept of non-intervention. The public now expects its leaders to raise issues of human rights or the environment—in public—during any bilateral trade meeting. Globalization has made domestic human rights, and worker rights, fair diplomatic game.

Trump, however, is proving to be an exception. So far, only Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has dared criticize him. I spoke to her after the Orlando massacre and she said Trump’s policies were “dangerous.” A few days later she went to Washington and doubled down, calling Trump “divisive” and “destabilizing for the continent.” It is high-risk stuff coming from the leader of a province that depends so heavily on trade with the U.S., but she took the risk because her principles overruled political strategy. Isn’t that the kind of politician we want? Isn’t that leadership?

The person who ought to be leading on these files is Stéphane Dion, minister of foreign affairs, but recently he stood mutely as the Chinese foreign minister berated a Canadian journalist for asking a question about human rights. Dion was rightly pilloried.

Dion clings to his so-called doctrine of “responsible conviction,” now Canada’s foreign policy blueprint. The phrase derives from the philosopher Max Weber’s distinction between the ethics of conviction and the ethics of responsibility. It is meant to help Dion gauge the real-life consequence of action based on ideals. While it is refreshing to have a minister grounded in theory, it has revealed him to be a vacillating featherweight, a man who can’t decide whether he stands by selling arms to the Saudis or not, and who has humiliated himself in the debate over the Yazidi genocide.

Earlier this month, Dion voted against a Conservative motion asking the government to recognize that ISIS was committing genocide against 400,000 Yazidis in Iraq. ISIS itself announced its genocidal intentions. In March, John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state declared it was genocide. Not Dion. Dion was steadfast on the day of the vote, and the day following the vote: no genocide. On the third day of the controversy, Dion did a complete 180, and said it was in fact a genocide. What changed? Not the evidence. The blood of Yazidi children, women and men was practically drenching the reports sitting on his desk. No, it was the appearance of a UN investigative report that changed his mind. #leadership.

The Brexit debate revealed that Canadian leaders will intervene in other countries’ affairs of to a degree, if we believe it protects our interests. Dion could salvage some credibility by challenging Trump on the issue of refugees and immigration, a file on which Canada has shown real leadership. If Trump was using words like “Jews” or “blacks” or “Italians” instead of “Muslims,” would we want Dion to step up and say something? Of course we would. Dion should join Wynne and risk breaking protocol. If Canada really is back, as Dion has bragged, it needs some backbone. So far he has shown none. Trump could be his chance.


If Canada is really back, it needs some backbone

  1. Because we might be dealing with him as President of the United States of America come next January, that’s why. Best not to poison the well ahead of time.

  2. I am not sure I agree with you. Just let Trump be Trump. And smile. His recent Brexit speech speaks for itself. Let everyone see …The Emperer has no clothes on. And just hope his support base withers away.
    I have lived through the Rob Ford era here in Toronto. He, like Trump, was in over his head. He like Trump was full of exaggerations, speaking off the cuff, with little or no impulse control. He like Trump was an anti politician. He like Trump had his demons. Making racist, mysogyniatic comments and crying victim. What we have subsequently learned from the Rob Ford years was that any criticism was “wind in his sails” to his support base.
    So just continue to show his misteps and ineffective speaking style.

  3. Canadians are common wealth citizens so brexit is our business.

    I don’t want my prime minister sticking his nose in other countries elections. That’s a move I’d expect from the Americans not us.

    • That black man went to a white country full of people who detest him – threatened them with being placed at the back of the line if they left the RU and then flew home.

      The POS in Washington helped the Brits make up their mind to leave.

  4. What a load of nonsense. More anti American leftist nonsense from the ‘media’
    The Briexit vote is another indication of the politicians being out of touch with the people, and not listening to the people. The same thing is happening in Canada and the United States. Like it or lump it, the voters are fed up with Governments that do not listen to the people. Trudope was only elected by 39% of Canadians, and he needs to keep that in mind, as he serves all the people. When Donald Trump becomes President, Canadians will be thank full they didn’t open their mouths, and make themselves look stupid.

    • Agreed – arrogance from the leadership – and in Ottawa most of them do not have the value of the solids my dog leaves on the lawn.

      I hope the POS in Ottawa today manages to find a new teaching job when he is tossed – because it is inevitable.

      We do not elect governments we toss the old one.

      The present government could go now and it would be 4 days too late.

  5. Well I gotta say, thanks for a great morning laugh! Backbone and Dion in the same sentence is enough to get the chuckles going. Add a video of the PM and bam, double-whammy. You’ve got to be kidding right? About as much backbone as a lobster.

  6. Evan, I am a fan but I think you should review this column and think hard about how you are positioning yourself. You have new opportunities and responsibilities opening up. Expressions such as “rightly pilloried” and “vacillating featherweight” are powerful from a narrative point of view, but are they really helping us understand complex situations? Your role will be to ask questions, period. Not to engage in Rex Murphy rants.

    • Actually, I think Evan is totally justified and spot-on with his characterisation of this weak and vacillating minister. Stephane Dion: “He’s just not ready”. Sound familiar ?

  7. You journalists really don’t get it, do you?

    America is our largest trading partner and closest ally. There is a very realistic change Trump could be president. Bashing him will come back to haunt foreign affairs if this happens. Realistically, we are only in the position to live with whomever the US elects as it’s President

    • Also, you don’t see them interjecting their opinion on our elections outside of satire

  8. Speak for yourself. “Jews and Italians” aren’t the ones shooting up gay bars, carrying out honor killings, mutilating their daughters, living in welfare harems on my dime. Muslims aren’t the new Jews. They’re the new Nazis. A ban on Muslim immigration to the West is 15 years over due.
    As for “blacks” (and “Mexicans”) read FBI and CDC stats about crime and get back to me. Luckily, God made Canada too cold for cotton so we avoided a world of hurt…

    “Finally, black-on-white crime is substantially greater than the reverse. The table below shows murders by race of offender and victim in 2013. Note that overall, blacks kill as often as whites, although blacks represent only 13 percent of the population. Note also that black-on-white murder is more than double the rate of white-on-black murder (409 to 189). Similar results were found for 2012, 2011, 2010 and prior years”

    • Welfare Harem? That’s a new one. You looney ultra-righties never disappoint. And you have a rainbow on your avatar? Take that down you sad little fraud, you don’t know what it means.

      • As usual,someone posts statistics,and up pops someone with an predictably empty ad hominem attack. Though I have not mentioned which one is a left winger,most people would connect the term “ad hominem attack” and “left winger” in an instant.
        If you bother to read a book or two instead of being simply emotional,you may find out that the right has many good points,and are not all drenched in bigotry.
        The typical lefty has no clue about first principles,logic,statisitical analysis,or truth. Yes hate is wrong,and that is NOT exclusive left wing knowledge. However,good stewardship outweighs (I cant even use the word “trumps” anymore ffs) internationalism. If you want to become part of the international blancmange,go ahead. Islam has a major problem,and it is with the West.Europe is a hint and half for you how Islam acts on the road…and we all know how they act in Syria. Are you sponsoring a Muslim family? Didnt think so.

  9. ” If Trump was using words like “Jews” or “blacks” or “Italians” instead of “Muslims,” would we want Dion to step up and say something?”

    By that comment, the author displays his astounding ignorance. Jews, blacks and Italians are all races or ethnicities. They in no way compare to a religion, and to call Islam just a religion is to drastically understate its covert intent. It is a political force masquerading as a religion, with the intent of creating a world caliphate. And as for ethnicity, it covers a vast array.

    Someone given the exposure of writing for Mac leans should do far better than this. He further supports my intent not to renue.

    • Psst! Judaism is a religion, just like Islam.

  10. Zoolander Trudeau has already banned Trump from entering Canada and call him “Ignorant”. I think Zoolander has said enough already!!

  11. I don’t think Dion is a “featherweight”.

  12. Essentially Evan is saying that the government has no backbone because it lacks “bombast”. That approach is often used to try to look like you have backbone. In fact it is often a sign of insecurity.
    We had ten years of that and people voted for change.
    In the case of Trump, the Liberals are taking a more intelligent approach in my view.
    One of the things about Trump is that the more people criticize him, the higher he stands in the eyes of his base. And he thrives on attention both negative and positive.
    Think of him as a troll (a dangerous one, but a troll nonetheless. The more you feed them the more powerful they become. The more you ignore them, the more diminished they become.
    Come now, Evan… this is not rocket science.
    And as for Dion, I am willing to wait and give him the benefit of the doubt. His world is complex and there is lots that he simply can’t divulge – even to defend himself – and he seems (wisely) unwilling to use the public stage to spout all things political – again, a change from the last regime.
    I do know that this government was simply hamstrung by the Saudi arms deal that was initiated by the Conservatives and I suspect that there would be a huge price to pay if they backed out.
    So I will wait – to be fair. Others seem to be only too willing to jump and speculate. I guess that’s fair too.

  13. All this confirms the appraisal of Canada by a Hong Kong visitor, that Canada is a wonderful country with a 2nd rate economy and 3rd rate politicians. Maybe make that 4th rate. If Trump is elected, it will be no time to be weak kneed.

    • Canadians are far above it’s elected govt.,this is true. Nobody worth a damn goes into politics.Just narcissistic silver spooners with no idea who they are,and no idea how to do anything else.

  14. The reason fluff boy and the liberals will be put thier place with immigration policies when Trump gets in.The man child will run home to mommy if trump says BOO to him. Trudeau and the liberals are spineless and hopefully they learn from the latest vote that the little guy is not going take crap forced down their throats by a few politicians

  15. What a dopey commentary. If US politicians behaved as this guy suggests, his fellow hacks in the Canadian media would be screaming blue murder about American interference in Canada’s business.
    This is just click bait like much these days from a desperate media, rapidly losing money and jobs. Next Macleans will no doubt have another front cover pix of Stunned Daze or the wife (maybe both?) in another desperate attempt to boost circulation.

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