Ongoing chaos in Washington could actually work in Canada’s favour

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While Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington praising up Trump on the art of the deal, Trudeau was actually getting a bigger deal done.


First published in The Hill Times on Monday, February 20, 2017.

OTTAWA—It was Canada’s hour in the European Parliament last week.

Even those parties who voted against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement were compelled to proclaim their affection for our country with hand-held signs that said, “Yes to Canada. No to CETA.”

In the end, the vote was not even close, even though parties on the left and the right were opposed.

Some 58 per cent of European parliamentarians endorsed the deal, which sets the stage for speedy implementation.

In one sense, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has U.S. President Donald Trump to thank for the solid show of support.

Since the new American president’s inauguration a month ago, the United States administration has been systemically threatening to close borders, round up refugees and cancel international commercial agreements.

Even though American courts have slowed down some of the initiatives, the obvious message of closed America borders has not been lost on the rest of the world.

Contrary to the core group of Trump supporters, most other jurisdictions feel alienated and confused by the administration’s early direction.

European support for the free trade deal with Canada actually grew because the agreement became synonymous with an anti-Trump approach. One European parliamentarian, Artis Pabriks from the European People’s Party made an oblique reference to the plan to wall off Mexico. “Together we can build bridges, instead of a wall, for the prosperity of our citizens. CETA will be a lighthouse for future trade deals all over the world.”

While Trump vows to close borders and keep foreigners out, the Canadian prime minister is welcoming refugees and signing trade deals with Europe and beyond.

Perhaps the ongoing chaos in Washington could actually work in Canada’s favour.

Justin Trudeau’s meeting with the president appeared to establish a good working relationship, while underscoring different perspectives on the Syrian refugee crisis. Trudeau was able to make his point, without making an enemy, and by all accounts last week’s White House visit was a success.

It should have been the launch of what could have been a very good week for Trump.

In less than seven days, he welcomed three world leaders and reinforced his close personal friendship with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Trump addressed with the familiar nickname, Bibi.

Instead, the president was dodging questions about the alleged ongoing relationship between several members of his campaign team and senior officials in the Russian government.

By mid-week, one cabinet member had been fired, and another nominee, facing a rough confirmation ride, decided to voluntarily withdraw himself from contention as the secretary of labor.

Trump’s press secretary repeatedly made it clear that the boss had lost confidence in National Security adviser Michael Flynn after Flynn misled vice-president Mike Pence as to the nature of his pre-inauguration discussions with the Russian ambassador.

After cutting Flynn loose, Trump then blamed the whole mess on the media and leaks from the intelligence community. “I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media—as I call it, the fake media, in many cases,” Trump proclaimed, the day after he dumped his friend.

It is normal for a new administration in any country to experience a few hiccups in the early days.

But the almost daily circus in Washington is beyond anything most reporters and political watchers have ever observed.

That is tough for Trump. But it also means that neighbouring countries like Canada could benefit from the renewed world interest in our similarities and differences.

An open border policy makes Canada a welcoming place for refugees. It also means international businesses can consider investing and locating in Canada, while keeping close to the American market.

We are within driving distance of the 325 million consumers who are fuelling America’s prosperity and we still benefit from relatively open borders with the Untied States.

Our links of geography and history make us fast friends and good neighbours. At a time when the United States seems likely to build more walls, Canada could position itself as the ideal way-station into North America.

Last week’s CETA deal certainly sounded an optimistic note for more trade between Canada and roughly 500 million Europeans.

It also tempered negative fallout from the decision by the United Kingdom to exit the European Union.

The agreement sent a resounding message that not all countries around the world are closing their borders.

And while the Israeli prime minister was in Washington praising up Trump on the art of the deal, Trudeau was actually getting a bigger deal done.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era Cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.