Getting it right


There is a very interesting and somewhat counterintuitive article by Scott Gilmore in MacLean’s headlined: “What if Trudeau became ‘The Trump Whisperer’?” The article is not really about Justin Trudeau, at all. In fact, he is never mentioned, by name, anywhere in it, except by the headline writer, and he is only referred to, directly, in the eighth paragraph (although his office (the PMO) is mentioned in the fourth paragraph.) The article is about how official and demi-official Ottawa (the latter described as “Former prime ministers, opposition politicians, and leaders in the Canadian private sector,” by Mr Gilmore) are teaming up and reacting to the very loud but very mixed signals President Trump is sending.

Scott Gilmore notes that “Canadian diplomats already enjoy a reputation for understanding America and its politics. Operating “inside the beltway” almost gives us a home-field advantage. No one else is better placed to explain Trump to the allies, and vice versa. We are well suited to broker deals, pour oil over troubled waters, untangle mixed messages, and calm rattled nerves—on both sides of the Atlantic. If we consciously pursued this role, it would make us an “indispensable nation”, raising our profile, influence and diplomatic capital to new heights … [and] … we could use that new capital to take advantage of the second opportunity. This is a moment when we can not only fight for our values, but also change the way we see ourselves, and the way the world sees us. Every few years the Economist magazine puts Canada on its cover and claims we’re the new bastion of liberalism, or multiculturalism, or innovation, and we all get very excited. But the ironic reason we make the cover is because the story is unexpected—Canada is not what comes to mind when people think of those things. The headline says “Canada is cool!” because normally we aren’t. Trump, however, provides a chance to cement the idea that Canada was, is, and always will be an exceptional nation.

That’s the crux of his thesis: we are uniquely positioned to understand America, including Donald Trump’s America, and we are, equally, uniquely poised to take advantage of our understanding.

Right now,” Mr Gilmore says,  “the core principles that Canadians hold so dearly, that define us, such as liberal democracy, multiculturalism and a values-based international order, are being threatened globally. And, what’s worse, there are precious few nations inclined or able to swim against the current tide. Canada is the exception. Unlike France, or Germany, or Australia, no one in our political landscape (who has even modest support) wants to withdraw from the global trading system, close our borders to refugees or abandon our traditional transatlantic alliances. We even have broad agreement on once-controversial topics like climate change … [and] … Canada is uniquely placed to become not just a champion for all of these ideals, but the champion. Our Prime Minister should stand on the world stage and thunder in defence of NATO, the Paris Agreement, NAFTA, and WTO. His ministers should fan out to reinforce or reestablish our allies’ support for these ideas and institutions. The leaders of Canada’s business community and civil society can also contribute, preaching the same message every chance they get. Not only will this fortify the idea that these values are Canadian values—more importantly, it will be critically helpful. For once, that worn-out slogan used to flog books is true: The world needs more Canada.

I think it is both a bit more and a bit less than that. We need to “deal” with America, no matter who leads it, but leaders do matter, and we can be sure that President Trump has an agenda. Any “deal” works best when all partners get enough of what they really want and need and agree to give some things up to the others ~ “win-win,” in other words. Thus, I suspect, that the Trudeau government’s very real and sincere commitment to climate change and the Paris Agreement may have to be sacrificed on the alter of NAFTA, NATO and the WTO.

The world really doesn’t “need more Canada,” but we might be able to set an example of how to deal most effectively with President Trump’s administration.

Scott Gilmore concludes, broadly and generally correctly in my opinion, that “in order for this to happen, our government must do more than just add a few lines to a speech. They need to make this a specific goal, poured right into the PM’s “deliverology” alchemy. We could go further, and make this global campaign to champion Canadian values part of the as yet amorphous Canada 150 celebrations. And it will also require resources. If we want to champion NATO, we need to finally step up and support it with troops. We need more diplomats, doing more, and doing it abroad (not filing paper in headquarters). And we need everyone working together—this crusade is important enough to warrant a secretariat, even a war room … [and] … Finally, we need this to be a Canadian campaign, not a Liberal one. The opposition, instead of trying to get the Prime Minister to malign Trump in Question Period, should promote Canada’s efforts to champion these values around the world. The government, in return, should bring them to the table–and form a cross-party committee to support the campaign … [because] … As Chairman Mao allegedly once said: “There is great disorder under the Heavens and the situation is excellent.” This is true. With some imagination, some leadership, and some effort, Canada can emerge from the Trump years stronger, and even more Canadian.

First, a bit of a quibble: there is, already a “war room” for this sort of vital policy initiative ~ it is wernick2the Privy Council Office (PCO), the beating heart of official, bureaucratic Ottawa, where some of the best, toughest minds in Canada are found. It, the war room, should not be found in the partisan, political Prime Minister’s Office where, in 2017, Team Trudeau rules the roost. The “deliverology” and the finances, the strategy, the policy and the diplomacy are all centred in the PCO, under the Clerk of the Privy Council, the country’s very able and most senior civil servant, albeit the “outputs” are sometimes “delivered” by line departments.

Second, we must remember that there are other leaders and other issues, foreign and domestic, that also require both strategic (policy) and tactical (political) attention, sometimes in concert with our approach to America but also, sometimes, in competition:

The Canada that Scott Gilmore wants to see is one that, in my opinion, “delivers” for all of Canada on all fronts, all at once. Yes, we must focus on America, it is our closest neighbour, our best friend ~ whether we like that or not, our biggest and most important trading partner and the guarantor of our sovereignty and security ~ again  whether we like it or not. But we cannot focus on America to the exclusion of the world. We are, after all, a G7 country in our own right. The point isn’t to be “cool” or liberal or Liberal; the point is to have a grand strategy that protects and promotes our, Canadian, vital interests.

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