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Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin
Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin

LAWRENCE MARTIN

Trudeau will pay the price if he wavers on Trump Add to ...

Exaggerators, overreactors, alarmists, wolf criers. They make up the ascendant, paranoid right in politics. Canadians, by contrast, show an opposite lean. We’re more inclined to equanimity, seeing things in the round.

It’s one of our finer qualities and it was manifest following Donald Trump’s action against Muslims and refugees, as well as the Quebec murders allegedly perpetrated by a lone-wolf screwball.

Justin Trudeau was out before other world leaders with the message that the excluded were welcome here. Many Conservatives, Jason Kenney included, took issue with the Trump edict as well.

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Following the horror in Sainte-Foy, there were no overheated calls from Mr. Trudeau or opposition leaders for a security crackdown on freedoms. Instead, there was this statement by the Prime Minister: “We will not meet violence with more violence. We will meet fear and hatred with love and compassion. Always.”

That, of course, runs directly counter to the Archie Bunkerish proclivities of the new U.S. President and his Visigothic sidekick, Stephen Bannon. Mr. Trump has just come to power and already cross-border relations are rocky. We should get used to it. A long run of bilateral warfare is likely in the offing.

The initial idea, a reasonable one, was to wait before jumping to conclusions about where Mr. Trump was headed. Maybe a lot of his campaign demagoguery was just P.T. Barnum bluster. But it took only a week of announcements – Mexican wall, Muslim wall – to show that he was fully intent on implementing his agenda.

We’re in completely new territory with this U.S. administration. There has never been one like it – and never one so unlike our own. The John Diefenbaker and John Kennedy fissure was based on less. So was the split between Richard Nixon and Pierre Trudeau. The divide today extends to trade, immigration, climate change, social justice, foreign policy and much else. It also extends to temperament, world view and philosophy.

Some say we should bury our differences because relations with Washington are simply too important to let sour. Others say you can suck up to power or you can stand on principle. The Trudeau government would like to find a middle ground. It may be able to work out an accommodation on trade issues. But events are dictating – and likely will continue to dictate – a wide divide.

Global protests greeted Mr. Trump’s actions, with Mr. Trudeau being saluted for his initial statement. Many see Canada as playing a leading role in countering “America First” naiveté.

The country is well-equipped to take on such a challenge. Our unity has rarely, if ever, been stronger than it is today. Regional discontent is at one of its all-time lows. The spirit of positivism that Justin Trudeau has ushered in to contrast the bunker mentality of the Conservative decade has weakened somewhat owing to his recent stumbles.

But to get the measure of how well, comparatively speaking, this country is doing, one need only look at what have been seen as the big controversies stirring in Ottawa. There was the Prime Minister’s Christmas holidaying with the Aga Khan. Horrors. There was his self-admitted slip-up in answering a question in French instead of English. A barn burner, to be sure. There’s been the endless, tedious debate over the issue that most Canadians could not care a fig about. Electoral reform.

Many times in the past our government has had to stake out positions running directly counter to Washington’s. Jean Chrétien’s run-ins with George W. Bush are one example. Pierre Trudeau’s handling of Mr. Nixon constituted another. On neither occasion did we pay too big a price. As for Mr. Trump, he can’t put up walls everywhere. He can’t go about alienating every economic partner.

Mr. Trudeau should make it clear in his coming meeting with him that there will be no relenting on Canada’s contrary beliefs. He and the President are going to have to agree to very much disagree.

If he sells out to Mr. Trump, Canadians will make him pay. And so they should.

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