Yes, let's put Canada first on trade – but Trudeau is not without fault

Trudeau should put his personal feelings aside, stop pandering to special interests, and make a deal with Trump that benefits all Canadians.

(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)

By: Candice Malcolm

Leaders across the political spectrum expressed their support for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the aftermath of his G7 spat with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Canada comes first, and it was refreshing to see leaders put partisan politics aside and support our PM in his swift response and retaliatory actions in this brewing trade war.

Trump, as he often does, crossed a line with his Twitter attacks on Trudeau. He called Trudeau “meek, mild and weak” and pledged a full-out trade war against Canada.

As much as Trudeau’s critics may enjoy seeing our arrogant PM get put in his place by a more powerful leader, the damage done by Trump’s threats would destroy the livelihood of many Canadians (and Americans, too).

But Trudeau is not without fault. In fact, two of Trump’s major criticisms against Trudeau are spot on. First, Trudeau did not approach negotiations with Trump in good faith, and second, Canadian protectionism and trade barriers need to be dismantled.

Trump has been threatening a new trade regime since he launched his presidential campaign three years ago. Originally, he had no problem with Canada; his focus was squarely on Mexico and China – countries with minimal environmental regulations and non-existent labour standards that allow them to undercut American jobs.

“Canada is no problem,” said Trump in January 2017, the month he was sworn into office.

“Do not worry about Canada, do not even think about them … we have had a very fair relationship with Canada. It has been much more balanced and much more fair.”

So, what happened? Something changed over the past few months, and there’s plenty of evidence showing that Trudeau and his team have unnecessarily provoked the Trump administration and made advisories out of a long-time friend and ally.

Trudeau insiders like Scott Brison, Bruce Anderson, Carolyn Bennett and Gerald Butts have made a habit of bashing Trump and mocking him on social media. The Liberal Party of Canada has sent out fundraising letters attacking Trump and accusing him of “turning (his) back on the world.”

Just days before the G7 summit began, Trudeau’s office leaked an embarrassing story about Trump to Jim Acosta (a fervent Trump-hating reporter) at CNN (Trump’s least favourite news outlet).

The story ridiculed Trump for making a joke about the War of 1812 during a private call with Trudeau, and quoted an anonymous Canadian official who insisted it wasn’t a joke.

Embarrassing a President who obsesses over his public image, on the eve of the most important trade summit, is a recipe for disaster. And that is exactly how it unfolded.

There are Canadian jobs at stake, and no matter his personal views about Trump, Trudeau’s job is to do what’s best for Canada. That includes working with the U.S. President, and championing free trade.

That brings us to Trump’s second valid point, about Canadian tariffs and protectionism in the dairy industry.

A powerful special interest group has, for years, convinced all parties that the Soviet-style quota system is worth protecting in our modern economy.

It’s hard to argue that we shouldn’t have tariffs on steel and aluminum, or that we should dismantle supply management for the wheat industry – as the Harper Conservatives did, to great fanfare – and then somehow argue that supply management of dairy is non-negotiable.

If Canada wants free trade, we need to walk the walk. Trudeau should put his personal feelings aside, stop pandering to special interests, and make a deal with Trump that benefits all Canadians.