MONTREAL — European Council President Donald Tusk says he’s happy that while he’s been in Montreal, no one shouted “send him back.”
The clear dig at right-wing populism in the United States at the outset of a press conference alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau follows a rally President Donald Trump held Wednesday night where attendees chanted “send her back” when the president referred to Rep. Ilhan Omar. She’s one of four Democratic congresswomen who he suggested should “go back” to their countries if they have criticisms of the United States.
Omar is an American citizen who was born in Somalia and moved to the United States with her parents as a child. The other three are American-born. None is white.
Trump’s tweets and comments earned a rebuke from the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives in the United States, and Tusk weighed in after spending the morning discussing free trade with Trudeau.
He was initially reticent to elaborate on his views on Trump’s politics when asked. But then, choosing his words slowly, he did.
“I don’t want to comment on your neighbour’s internal politics today, but I think that for all of us, I was — I’ve been for many years one of the most pro-American politicians in Europe. It’s difficult to understand some facts, some words and sometimes if you feel that something is totally unacceptable, you have to react despite business, despite interests,” Tusk said.
“For me, values are much more important than trade, sorry. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I will never change my opinion here.”
On the weekend, Trump tweeted that the four legislators, including Omar, should return to the “broken and crime-infested” countries they came from, fix those places, and maybe come back to the U.S. when they have lessons to teach. He amplified his views in the ensuing days.
Trump was widely understood to have been talking about Omar and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who was born in New York, Rashida Tlaib who was born in Detroit, and Ayanna Pressley who was born in Chicago. The rookie liberal lawmakers, known colloquially as “The Squad,” have been outspoken about the president and critical of their own party’s leaders for being too moderate.
Trudeau did not refer to Trump by name in Montreal.
“The comments made were hurtful, wrong and completely unacceptable,” the prime minister said, “and I want everyone in Canada to know that those comments are completely unacceptable and should not be allowed or encouraged in Canada.”
Trudeau and Tusk met Thursday morning to talk up the merits of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, which gives Canadian businesses preferred access to 500 million European consumers and a $24-trillion market in the 28-country bloc.
Canada’s Parliament has already ratified the pact with the support of the Liberals and the Conservatives, but seven Canadian and Quebec politicians sent a letter to French lawmakers this week urging them not to follow suit.
Canadian business groups and International Trade Minister Jim Carr have branded that letter as disappointing and disturbing given the previous approval of the deal by the House of Commons.
Trudeau took aim at the federal New Democrats in his comments. He questioned with whom the NDP would sign a trade deal if not with Europe, which Trudeau cited as having progressive policies for workers and families.
So far, 13 EU countries have ratified the deal, but almost all of CETA — more than 90 per cent — went into force in September 2017 under what is known as provisional application.