Scott Reid is a political analyst and principal at Feschuk.Reid and served as director of communications to prime minister Paul Martin.
It won’t be climate change, or even the carbon tax. Nor will it be affordability, pipelines, national pharmacare or Indigenous reconciliation. And it sure as hell won’t be SNC-Lavalin.
No, as important as all these issues are, none of them qualifies as the real ballot question for October’s federal election. For that, we must confront three inevitable words: Donald. Freaking. Trump.
How could it be otherwise? How could anyone even imagine that any issue matters more than the impossible task of managing relations with the historically awful and dangerously unreliable man that Americans have picked once – and might just pick again – to serve as their President?
Mr. Trump can crash the yet-to-be ratified USMCA – and Canada’s economy, too – with a single angry tweet. He can keep Canada stuck in the crosshairs between China and the United States as he careens from guardrail to guardrail with President Xi Jinping. His trillion-dollar deficits and rising tariffs might easily provoke a global recession. And let us never forget the utter peril he invites by blindly playing with matches in the Korean Peninsula.
Recent polling shows that nearly three-quarters of Canadians disapprove of Mr. Trump. But it is a 100-per-cent fact that no living human has the ability to more directly or more comprehensively affect the lives and livelihoods of Canadians than this President of the U.S. – whether we like it or not. Whether we loathe him or not.
Mr. Trump is the ineluctable problem of our time – a constant orange emergency capable of disrupting our prosperity, security and well-being.
So, which of our leaders is best qualified to take on the task of Mr. Trump? Who is best suited to dance the delicate line between soothing the President’s galactic-sized ego and showing the strength required to stare down a bully?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer brings credentials to this challenge. He can fairly claim that as a fellow conservative, he might be able to relate more easily with the Republican leader, and is more likely to share a similar world view on key issues. Perhaps that will help, but it presumes that Mr. Trump conforms to traditional left/right definitions of the political spectrum. The Conservative leader brings another qualification that could matter: his instinct for conciliation. Remember, Mr. Scheer’s political identity was forged in the Speaker’s Chair, not around a cabinet table. He’s a trained mediator. Could these skills serve him well in juggling Mr. Trump’s varied mood swings? They just might.
Against Mr. Scheer’s potential, we must measure Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s record. On occasion, our urbane, youthful leader has triggered Mr. Trump’s insecurities and produced more than one presidential suck-fit. When it’s mattered most though, Mr. Trudeau has made this unwelcome partnership work. He earned high marks for his handling of the trade file, somehow crafting a new NAFTA that looks an awful lot like the old NAFTA and therefore looks like a big win for Canada. Most important of all, Mr. Trudeau has displayed discipline. Countless times, he might have called out Mr. Trump for reprehensible conduct. Such outbursts would have won easy cheers at home, but Mr. Trudeau opted to largely hold his tongue in order to preserve Canada’s maneuverability. In other words, Mr. Trudeau has played it smart. And for that, he deserves full credit.
Many will think it unwise to vote on the basis of which prime minister can best deal with a President who could be ousted in 2020. Think again. Actually, think of Wisconsin. That swing state reminds us that Mr. Trump, who couldn’t possibly win once, dare not be dismissed twice. The hard truth is that our election comes first and Canadians will be condemned to live with the choice Americans make. We can’t afford to gamble that we’ll like the result better this time around.
Mr. Trump affects our jobs. Our incomes. Our environment, our borders and our national defence. In fact, there is no policy arena immune from his impetuous influence. For Canadian voters, Mr. Trump’s existence is of universal relevance and decisive significance.
In October, there will be many important issues to weigh. But picking a prime minister that can protect Canada’s sovereign interests against the manic whims of Mr. Trump is an issue without equal. Mr. Trump should be, and must be, the real ballot question in this coming election.
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