How desperate is Justin Trudeau to keep a North American trade agreement? Pretty desperate.
The Mexicans likely marveled about this once or twice as they welcomed the Canadian prime minister to Mexico City last week – and as they extracted the Canadian-made stainless steel that had slipped between their shoulder blades.
“¡Tan encantador! ¡Muy guapo! ¡Tan despiadado!” they must have said, to themselves. Rough translation: “So charming! So handsome! So ruthless!”
It wasn’t always thus. As recently as June, Trudeau was welcoming Enrique Pena Nieto to Ottawa, even bestowing one of those Trudeauesque both-hands-and-almost-a-full-hug things on the beaming Mexican president. (It almost went as far as those vaguely unsettling, nose-to-nose eye couplings Trudeau also favours. Those mano-a-mano moments, however, are apparently saved for swearings-in of cabinet ministers at Rideau Hall.)
Still, it was pretty cuddly back in June. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had previously ruled out throwing Mexico under the bus. Said she: “I’ve always been clear, and the prime minister has always been clear, about the importance of our relationship with Mexico.” That unctuous windbag Brian Mulroney even chimed in, solemnly wheezing: “Throwing friends and neighbours and allies under the bus is a position for a weak leader. This is not the Canadian tradition.”
Resulting CBC headline: “Canada isn’t about to ‘throw Mexico under the bus,’ foreign ministers say.”
When he was still getting all grippy with Pena Nieto in June, Trudeau proclaimed the same sort of stuff. “I think it’s important that allies and partners like Mexico and Canada work together to address the challenges we’re facing together.” The Mexicans smiled and nodded a lot.
Well, that was then, and this is now. Belatedly, correctly, Trudeau has concluded that Donald Trump is a monkey with a machine gun and that, if there has to be a victim supplied at the NAFTA murder scene, well, Enrique c’mon down!
Thus, when Agent Orange was asked if he was open to a U.S.-Canada trade deal – one that excluded Mexicans, who he regards as rapists and killers, anyway – Trump responded: “Oh, sure, absolutely.”
At that moment, of course, Trudeau could have said no way, José. He could have repeated what he had said to Enrique Pena Nieto. But here’s what he said instead:
After an uncomfortable moment or two, during which Mexico’s government was likely coming up with new swear words to describe Canadians, Trudeau was asked about a two-way trade deal. Said he: “I continue to believe in NAFTA … so saying, we are ready for anything, and we will continue to work diligently to protect Canadian interests.”
Translation: “Enjoy the view under the bus, Enrique!”
This Benedict Arnold-style strategy creates three new problems for us, the Snow Mexicans.
One, it mainly helps Trump, not Canada. The U.S. “president” may be a racist, sexist, lying bastard – but he knows a thing or two about negotiations. Decades devoted to doing New York City real estate deals with his daddy’s money taught him that the best opponent is one that is weakened.
By dispensing with a united Canada-Mexico front, Trudeau has reduced his bargaining power. As Trump knows – and as Trudeau may soon discover – it is always easier to steal the lunch money of one kid. Not two.
If Trudeau doesn’t watch Game of Thrones, he should. Every fan of that show knows that, when seeking a bargain with a much-more-powerful opponent, you need to form alliances with other less-powerful kingdoms. In GoT’s Westeros terms, Trudeau has sped up Winter’s arrival.
Two, nudging Mexico under the proverbial bus makes a big, big assumption that almost certainly will be proven wrong: namely, that Trump’s promises are worth the paper they’re printed on. They’re not.
As half his cabinet, all of his wives, most of the Republican Party and all of Puerto Rico can attest, Trump will turn on you in a New York minute. His word is no good. He was elected on a platform to tear up the Trans-Pacific Partnership and NAFTA – and build a xenophobic, inward-looking, protectionist demi-monde. He hasn’t kept any other promise, but he’s kept that one.
Thirdly, finally – and seriously, folks – this makes Canada look bad. It makes us look like we will turn on our allies, even after we repeatedly said we never would.
Desperate people do desperate things. Canada is looking desperate, and that isn’t a good thing.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.
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