The electoral reform thing, for sure – but everyone knew it was a dumb promise, and one that had been without vital signs for months. What’s happening now – with the NDP leading the way with typically over-the-top hysteria – is what John Turner used to call Ottawa’s “B.S. theatre.”
They may have been talking about the U.S. President’s plan to create “wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity, and it seeks to curtail women’s access to contraception.” That one would be relevant to Canada, of course, because it would have the effect of creating actual refugees from State-sanctioned persecution in the United States.
It may have been the apparent desire of the U.S. administration to start a war with someone, anyone. Iran, China, whatever. They may have been talking about that, because most of us Canadians are within the anticipated blast radius.
But, mostly, I suspect, they were talking about Donald Trump’s abrupt termination of a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Australia and America are (or at least were) the closest of allies. They share intelligence, they cooperate on military matters, and they trade goods and services.
According to a summary of the phone conversation by the Globe and Mail, based on reporting mainly done by the Washington Post:
U.S. President Donald Trump labelled a refugee swap deal with Australia “dumb” on Thursday after a Washington Post report of an acrimonious telephone call with Australia’s prime minister threatened a rare rift in ties between the two staunch allies.
The Post reported that Trump described the resettlement plan as “the worst deal ever” and accused Australia of trying to export the “next Boston bombers”. It said the call had been scheduled to last an hour but Trump cut it short after 25 minutes when Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tried to turn to subjects such as Syria.
… Turnbull refused to confirm the Post report that Trump, who had earlier spoken to world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, had angrily told him that the call was “the worst so far”.
Political analysts said such acrimony was unprecedented, surpassing even the difficult relations between former U.S. President Richard Nixon and then Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who pulled Australian troops out of the Vietnam War.
… As reports of the conversation hit headlines on both sides of the world, Trump tweeted shortly before midnight in Washington: “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal.”
That’s what senior folks in Ottawa were discussing yesterday. That now infamous phone call between Trump and Turnbull will become the stuff of legend.
Ottawa’s Trump strategy, to date, has been to render itself very, very tiny – so tiny that Trump does not see us. Their approach has been analogous to Justin Trudeau taking the longer route home from school, so that the bully Trump does not beat him up, and steal his lunch money.
I’ve loudly objected to that “strategy.” Being a supplicant doesn’t work.
The supplicants will say that it does. The Turnbull-Trump chat shows, they’ll say, that the U.S. President is unhinged, and the smallest thing can provoke him. So: minimize direct contact, say nothing about him, and be as quiet as proverbial church mice for the next four years. And pass the military rations, would you?
Those of us with an opposite view also think the Trump-Turnbull Telephony is highly significant, for two totally opposite reasons. One, Trump is so unhinged that sucking up to him simply will not work. Turnbull was civil and professional, and look what it got him. Zero, zippo, zilch.
Two, the Turnbull call demonstrates that the most minuscule bilateral irritant – in this case, what Trump falsely called “thousands” of “illegal” refugees, when in fact it is only 1,250, none of whom are “illegal” – will cause the U.S. President to go berserk. That’s not all: no one, not even a team of Nobel Prize-winning psychologists, can anticipate what Trump will do or say, ever. The only thing that is predictable is his unpredictability.
Ipso facto, a Canada-U.S. confrontation is coming. In his very first week, he did things that affect Canada in myriad ways – on energy, immigration, trade, environment and even reproductive choice. In his second week, his White House bald-faced lied about the Quebec City massacre, implying that Muslims were somehow to blame – instead of being the victims. (About that outrage, the Government of Canada did not offer a peep of protest.) A clash of nations is going to happen, whether or not our Prime Minister is walking around the block to avoid the bully.
In conclusion: the Trump-Turnbull call doesn’t suggest Canada should continue to be struck mute about the New World Disorder. It suggests precisely the opposite.
What will Justin Trudeau do? Who knows. Perhaps a phone call to Australia’s Prime Minister is in order. If nothing else, they can commiserate.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.