Given the broad consensus among Canadians that the president’s conduct has been contemptible, Donolo questioned the merits of Trudeau’s 21-second pause, which was followed by a refusal to call out Trump directly.
Donolo justified his condemnation by drawing heavily from Trudeau’s own words.
The prime minister claimed that his job was (1) “to stand up for our interests,” and (2) “to stand up for our values.”
And while it was certainly not in Canada’s interests to risk the president’s wrath by scorning him publicly, Donolo wondered whether the PM’s refusal to criticize Trump personally meant that he had failed on the second front.
“If we only find our voice when there is no risk,” he concluded, “then we are not truly sovereign.”
I don’t agree with Donolo - conscious decisions not to act are just as much acts of a soveign state as are actions themselves - but by invoking the idea that the role of the prime minister is to stand up for the values of Canadians, Trudeau brought this criticism upon himself. (The unnecessarily dramatic 21-second pause didn’t help, either.)
In 2017, then Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland articulated a vision for Canada on the world stage that, presumably, also represented the views of our prime minister:
“Now, it is clearly not our role to impose our values around the world,” she said. “No one appointed us the world’s policeman.”
Admittedly, Freeland went on to suggest that it was the government’s duty “to clearly stand for these rights both in Canada and abroad,” but how she explained standing for, rather than Trudeau’s standing up for, is critical:
“It is our role,” she said, “to set a standard for how states should treat women, gays and lesbians, transgendered people, racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious minorities, and Indigenous people.”
We stand, in short, by our actions, and those actions must begin at home.
As the prime minister is well-aware, when it comes to racial inequality, Canadians have little to brag about.
In that context, Trudeau was right not to take the media’s bait and wax smugly about the US president.
Moreover, those who support fundamental change in America should be grateful that he held his tongue.
At present, Republicans are divided over President Trump’s conduct. Those internal divisions are part of what is enabling what appears to be a normative shift in US society.
Criticism of the president by a Canadian prime minister (who cannot recall how many times he has dressed up in blackface) might well have spurred Republican Party members to reunite in opposition to foreign meddling in their country’s internal affairs.
The White House communications team could have used Trudeau to distract the public from the situation on America’s streets.
In sum, it is hard to imagine a worse time for self-righteous indignation in Canadian foreign policy.
The best response to President Trump is to get our own house in order.
Brian Bow continues to do excellent research into Canada-US relations. On race, why not take a look at the work of Laura Madokoro.
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