For the first time in decades, one of the world’s most durable and amicable alliances faces serious strain as Canadians absorb Donald Trump’s insults against their prime minister and attacks on their country’s trade policies. Some Canadians are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to seek peace with the U.S. president. Many others want him to hang tough even as Trump seeks to make political hay with his anti-Canada rhetoric. Some are even urging boycotts of U.S. products.
Canada’s CTV reports angry Canadian shoppers and travelers “are mounting strikes against America’s pocketbook by boycotting U.S. goods and trips to the States” as the summer travel season begins. “On Twitter, hashtags including #BuyCanadian, #BoycottUSProducts and #BoycottUSA are spreading tips on using purchasing power to defend Canada’s honour,” CTV reported.
The television network cited an Ottawa man who tweeted a photo of a cart of “Trump free” groceries on Sunday. “Others are refusing to buy Kentucky bourbon, California wine and Florida oranges, and ignoring major U.S. brands such as Starbucks, Walmart, and McDonalds,” CTV reported.
Trudeau winked at the emerging “Buy Canadian” swell at an event for farmers Tuesday. “There’s a bit of a patriotic boost going on these past few days,” he said to laughs, CTV reported.
The spark for the confrontation: Not only did President Trump suggest new tariffs against Canada are justified on grounds of national security, but he and top aides assailed Trudeau as a “weak” and dishonest” back-stabber who deserves a place in hell.
For Canadians — who don’t totally reject their stereotyped image as self-effacing and nice — the eruption seemed completely at odds with their own national temperament.
Anne Marie Goetz, a Canadian who teaches global affairs at New York University, said she hopes her compatriots will show “maturity and forbearance” amid the tensions. “But as these kinds of absurd statements and rude outbursts pile up, antagonism and resentment might too, which would be terribly unfortunate and even surreal for two of the best neighbors on the planet,” Goetz said.
Resentment already is palpable. A popular Alberta-based travel and culture blogger, Mike Morrison, said he and his wife have canceled a trip to the U.S. next month. That’s not good news for U.S. destinations that depend on Canadian tourists, who spent nearly $20 billion on visits to the U.S. in 2016.
In Halton Hills, a Toronto suburb, the City Council unanimously passed a motion Monday encouraging its residents and businesses, with typical Canadian politesse, to consider avoiding U.S. goods “where Canadian substitutes are reasonably available.”
“Trump is like a bad houseguest. He showed up late, left early and insulted the host,” said Mayor Rick Bonnette. “When you have a bully like Trump, you can’t just keep taking it and taking it.”
The ties between the two countries are without parallel anywhere in the world. Trade between the U.S. and Canada totaled an estimated $673.9 billion in 2017, with a surplus of $8.4 billion for the United States. Each day, about 400,000 people cross the world’s longest international border. There is close cooperation on defense, border security and law enforcement, and a vast overlap in culture, traditions and pastimes.
As with most intimate relationships, there have been rough spots. Limited trade wars over lumber, pulp and paper, and other products have flared on and off for decades. In the early 1960s, there was a bitter rift because of personal enmity between President John F. Kennedy and Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who balked at U.S. pressure to be more aggressive in Cold War maneuverings.
Later, the Vietnam War caused some divisions, as Canadians — including Justin Trudeau’s father, then-Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau — welcomed American draft evaders who crossed the border. And some Canadians, notably the Ontario intelligentsia, tend to regard Americans as more crass and gun-happy than people north of the border.
“In general, Canadians have looked at us as a large, powerful, unruly but basically good child — a big animal that they don’t have to worry about but does stupid things now and then,” said Stephen Blank, an American academic who has taught at universities on both sides of the border.
The flare-up came as the recent G-7 summit in Quebec concluded. While Trump headed to his meeting with North Korea’s leader, Trudeau told reporters that Canada would retaliate against new U.S. tariffs it viewed as unfair. Trump was furious, pulling the U.S. out of the G-7 joint communique and calling Trudeau “dishonest” and “weak.”
“There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door,” said Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro, though he later apologized for what he called “inappropriate” language.
Across their political spectrum, Canadians were outraged. Trudeau, who has embraced many left-of-center policies on behalf of his Liberal Party, has received strong support from his normally hostile conservative rivals.
Jason Kenney, leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, said he was stunned that Trump would attack the prime minister while getting chummy with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
“It is increasingly bizarre to see an administration heaping praise on a totalitarian dictator while using unprecedented language to condemn the elected head of government of the United States’ closest ally,” Kenney said.
David Frum, a Canadian-American political commentator, said the tiff would only boost Trudeau’s stature among Canadians.
“Trump’s revenge-tweets from Air Force One back at his Canadian hosts probably did not lose him any friends in Canada, for the basic arithmetic reasons that a few alt-right YouTubers aside, he had no friends in Canada left to lose,” Frum wrote in The Atlantic.
However, Lawrence Martin, a columnist with The Globe and Mail, suggested Trudeau’s defiance might be harmful to Canada and advised him to seek conciliatory talks with Trump rather than risk further trade reprisals.
“The big dog has all the advantages,” Martin wrote. “While only 16 percent of U.S. exports go to Canada, 72 percent of Canada’s go south.”
Bruce Heyman, former U.S. ambassador to Canada, said he believes the Trump administration is determined to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement and has created “an anti-Canadian narrative” that will help him when he pulls the plug.
An ensuing trade war will be painful to Canada, but ultimately beneficial, Heyman said: “It will force Canada to diversify.”
Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, met in Washington on Wednesday with some U.S. senators to discuss the strained relations, then gave a speech with a clear warning to the Trump administration
“You may feel today that your size allows you to go mano-a-mano with your traditional adversaries and be guaranteed to win,” she said. “But if history tells us one thing, it is that no one nation’s pre-eminence is eternal.”