Trump-Trudeau; a political week from hell

di Joe Volpe del September 3, 2018

TORONTO - A week is a lifetime in politics. Two political leaders, Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau, must be glad last week is done and they can start over after Labour Day ... maybe. It was a week of stunning reversals and humiliation for both men.

For Trump, it should have been a triumphant week. The NAFTA "knot", a commercial and trade problem of his own creation, was ready for the solution. He appeared to have "brought two partners to heel", on his preferred conditions, and, on timing suitable for his electoral interests. By Friday, the kindest observation offered is that he may have overplayed his hand and shifted control of the process to Congress.

The NAFTA is important to Canada, crucial to Ontario. The sections related to the auto industry directly affect 130,000 Canadian jobs - 124,000 of them in Ontario. It is the backbone of a diminishing manufacturing sector. It is part of an integrated North American auto sector, which by most accounts has worked well for Canada as a whole.

Thankfully for Canada, trade talks will resume Wednesday. It is not a "fight Canada can afford to lose".

For the USA, the talks have now gone from "the national interest to the personal". Having convinced, so to speak, his base that NAFTA has been detrimental to the American steel and auto industrial sector - to the advantage of Canada - he now must deliver, without appearing to concede something else in return. The negotiations are now about Trump and "his face".

How inopportune then, that Senator McCain, with complete disregard for Trump's moment, had the temerity to answer the roll call of the Lord. The nation's attention turned to him. Friends, allies and foes stepped away from the Trump agenda to pay respects to a political legend and hero.

It was as if the nation desperately needed an icon to refocus their attention on an increasingly illusory world leadership role for the USA. That icon was not Trump. McCain wanted no part of Trump at his funeral.

How humiliating for the most capricious and most powerful man in the world to be told by a dead man that the President was unwelcome at his funeral. The implication was obvious: Trump was deemed unworthy to be at most ostentatious celebration of "life Americana" in the land.

To make matters worse, the never-ending saga of the Mueller investigation into electoral fraud in 2016 produced yet another round of unsavory characters and salacious details regarding Trump's involvement, and related behaviour, directly or through his family. Even Republicans are beginning to view him as the "skunk in the room".

In the context of impending Mid-term elections, the political stakes are high. The "buzz" is everywhere:
a President facing the threat of criminal indictment or impeachment. National Press or Media outlets in the US are providing a blow by blow assessment of the probabilities, precedents (however remote) and legal manoeuvrings. Trump needs a "whipping boy", desperately.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau entered the week badly and finished it ... Trump gave him a “take it or leave” NAFTA proposal to sign by Friday. Trudeau, putting on a brave front, hastened to tell Canadians he would never sign a bad deal, and, that he would continue to defend the interests of dairy farmers, even as his actions screamed "aye, aye ready".

In mid-week, Trump gave an interview to Bloomberg News on the NAFTA - with some content embargoed - wherein he expressed disparaging, personal comments about Trudeau. Somehow, by Thursday, the transcripts found their way to the Toronto Star.

Not bound by those conditions, its editorial team determined that it would be in the public interest to reveal what an American President thinks of our Prime Minister - smack in the middle of "last minute negotiations".

To prove the adage true that "it doesn't rain unless it pours", the federal Court struck down the decision to allow the construction of the [Kinder-Morgan] Trans Mountain Pipeline to permit export of Alberta oil, though British Columbia, to western ports, for export of refined bitumen petroleum.

The main reason? Not enough consultation with Canada's Aboriginal Nations affected. The environmentalist lobby cheered; the business community, not so much.

Alberta's government threatened to pull out of Trudeau's carbon remission plan if the Federal government did not immediately appeal the decision. Meanwhile, the directors of Kinder-Morgan approved the proposed $4.5 billion sale to the government for its pipeline to nowhere.

Unless this coming week reveals some genius strategy, Trudeau and Trump will be holding each other's hand for mutual comfort.

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