Canada and Mexico could join forces to challenge Donald Trump’s plans for a wall on the Mexican border and a repeal of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but they’re not.
Instead, Justin Trudeau and Enrique Peña Nieto are each lobbying for a special relationship with the U.S. president-elect and both Republican-controlled houses.
To nobody’s surprise, Chrystia Freeland replaces Stéphane Dion as Canada’s foreign affairs minister, while in Mexico, Peña has named Luis Videgaray foreign minister.
There was no way Dion’s environmental baggage could pass inspection in Washington, where fossil fuels are back in fashion and climate-change researchers are updating their resumés. As international trade minister, Freeland rescued a free trade agreement with the 28-country European Union when it looked like it was headed for another Brexit shipwreck. Trudeau advisors Katie Telford and Gerald Butts spent several days last week laying the groundwork for Freeland to connect with Canada’s allies in the Republican-dominated Congress and Senate.
Likewise, Videgaray’s return to cabinet was a pragmatic decision. He quit as Mexico’s finance minister days after Trump’s pre-election visit in September, a visit insiders say Videgaray set up. Once Trump’s election was confirmed, Peña Nieto did what he had to do to reinstall a certified Trump whisperer.
Dion was an easy target. I believe he should have halted the $115 million deal that saw Canadian armed vehicles shipped to Saudi Arabia for use in subjugating its Shiite minority. I thought he was inept in his refusal to get harsh with the Saudis over the 10-year, 1,000-lashes sentence meted out to blogger Raif Badawi, whose plight and Quebec family convinced me to start blogging.
What I find surprising is Trudeau’s ruthlessness. I recall watching the young MP, a Dion-green scarf around his neck, joining a celebratory conga line to parade the newly elected Liberal leader through Montreal’s Palais de Congrès. That was in 2006. Now that they’re in power, the Liberals would like nothing better than to erase memories of those ideology-driven days in the political weeds. Kyoto? A city in Japan, the name of Dion’s dog. In Trudeau’s comments on the shuffle, he made no mention of Dion’s 21 years – including two years as Liberal leader – as Canada’s voice of environmental responsibility.
In Donald Trump’s post-fact world, this alarms me. Why is Canada so quick to acknowledge the new reality? What priority will Canada’s environmental concerns be given? How will Freeland reconcile Trudeau’s national carbon tax with Canada’s place in the continental supply chain?
The optics aren’t encouraging. For Dion and fellow veteran John McCallum, there were no cabinet openings. McCallum, who as Canada’s immigration minister opened the door to 25,000 Syrian refugees, becomes Canada’s ambassador to China. It’s been variously reported that Dion was offered the ambassadorship to France or Germany, but said he’s reflecting on his options.
I’ve always liked Dion the humanist. Mostly it’s because of his passionate efforts on behalf of those who believe in a united Canada. Thanks to Dion, the Chrétien government adopted the Clarity Act in the wake of the 1998 Supreme Court reference on Quebec’s right to secede unilaterally.
Thanks to Dion, Quebec’s independence movement lost the momentum it might have carried out of the 1995 referendum.
But that was then. Now, Trudeau’s Liberals depend on Quebec for their re-election and the last thing they need is a resurgent PQ under Jean-François Lisée resurrecting old humiliations on Canada’s 150th birthday. Another reason Dion had to go, given that Quebec’s National Assembly voted unanimously for a motion that Quebec, and only Quebec, has a say on future referendums and terms of secession in the event of a yes vote.
I also understand the PM’s need to empty the Liberal closets of noisy, rattling old bones as it heads into a trade war with the world’s greatest consumer nation. Trudeau knows Peña Nieto will play Mexican wages against Canadian social entitlements, Mexican versus Canadian oil, Mexico’s fierce war on drugs versus Canadian cannabis and Canadian needle exchanges. Trump hasn’t even taken power, yet he has the two amigos scrapping on the threat to scrap NAFTA.
Dion exited with a comment I hope Trudeau remembers when it’s his turn to jump.
“I loved politics, especially every time I could make a difference for the benefit of my fellow citizens. I’m leaving filled with energy – renewable. But politics isn’t the only way I can serve my country. Happily.”