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Politics Conservatives say Trudeau's Rolling Stone cover jeopardizes NAFTA talks

This image released by Rolling Stone shows Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the cover of the August 10 issue.

Rolling stone via Associated Press

The Conservatives are accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of putting the NAFTA talks in danger by appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in an article that portrays him as the anti-Donald Trump.

The Prime Minister's Office, however, calls the suggestion that Mr. Trudeau is jeopardizing free-trade talks "absurd" and claims the article reflects a good working relationship between Canada and the United States.

It's the latest tit-for-tat between the parties for their appearances in American media, which started last week when the Conservatives mounted a cross-border campaign to criticize the Trudeau government's decision to pay $10.5-million to former Guantanamo inmate Omar Khadr.

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Senior Liberals, including the Prime Minister, have suggested the Tories' overt criticisms of the government could affect the impending negotiations of the North American free-trade agreement. Now, the Conservatives allege Mr. Trudeau is doing the same thing for appearing as the subject of an article that they claim "pokes the President in the eye."

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Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt said the Rolling Stone cover story on Mr. Trudeau – which asks "Why can't he be our President?" – could have an adverse effect on trade dealings with the "mercurial" Mr. Trump, who has been known to act "on a whim."

"This is a serious misstep by the Trudeau regime. They should have just taken a breath and not sought out this publicity this time because I don't think it's helpful to the overall goal of our country, which is a free-trade deal," she said in an interview.

"Why does [Mr. Trudeau] need to do this right now, when it does put in danger the direction and the commencement of these negotiations?"

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When asked how Mr. Trudeau's office would have known how he would be portrayed in the article, Ms. Raitt said, "They would have known that there's going to be comparisons drawn [between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump]."

A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said the Conservatives, under leader Andrew Scheer, are reverting to former prime minister Stephen Harper's approach of "attacking his opponents at all costs."

"We believe that our country's national economic interest is something that should transcend party lines, and a unified approach on trade with the United States is in the economic interests of all Canadians," PMO spokesman Cameron Ahmad said.

Gerald Butts, one of Mr. Trudeau's top aides, said Wednesday on Twitter that "nobody argued" that Canadian politicians should not appear in U.S. media.

"You won't find the PM attacking his domestic political adversaries in this or any other international media," Mr. Butts wrote.

The wide-ranging Rolling Stone profile focuses on everything from the Prime Minister's political past to his Syrian-refugee policy. Mr. Trudeau never criticizes the Conservative Party, Mr. Trump or the American government in the piece, but says that he disagrees with Mr. Trump "on a whole bunch," while adding that they have a "constructive working relationship." In the article, writer Stephen Rodrick makes several comparisons between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump's policies, but at one point declares, "Donald Trump likes Justin Trudeau."

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A U.S. State Department official wouldn't comment on the piece when asked whether it could jeopardize Canada-U.S. relations heading into the NAFTA negotiations. Instead, the official said in an email on Thursday: "Canada is one of the United States' oldest and most important international partners, with deep security, economic, educational, and cultural ties."

Ms. Raitt said the Rolling Stone article is a "very different ball of wax" than what Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel and Peter Kent did last week when they appeared on Fox News and in the Wall Street Journal, respectively, to criticize the Trudeau government's settlement with Mr. Khadr.

"Unfortunately, the Rolling Stone article is far more dangerous to our overall negotiating position than informing the Americans that Canadians disagree with what the Prime Minister decided," Ms. Raitt said, referring to the government's settlement with Mr. Khadr.

Mr. Khadr, who was captured in Afghanistan at the age of 15 and sent to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, is accused of throwing a grenade that killed U.S. army medic Christopher Speer and blinding in one eye fellow soldier Layne Morris. The Supreme Court later ruled the actions of federal officials who participated in U.S. interrogations of Mr. Khadr violated his rights as a Canadian citizen.

Before the settlement, Mr. Khadr's lawyers had filed a $20-million lawsuit against the federal government. Mr. Trudeau has repeatedly argued the government would have lost in court and cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more.

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