Opinion: Trump brings Canada together

It was exactly two years ago this week that Donald Trump stormed out of Canada in a tantrum, upset with Justin Trudeau and his brief visit to the G7 summit in Quebec.

Trump won’t be coming back into Canada anytime soon – nor will most other Americans – with reports that the borders between our two countries will likely remain closed into the summer, or at least the first part of it.

The scheduled June 21 reopening is likely to be postponed once again, according to reports from officials in both countries, who are portraying this as a friendly meeting of minds on maintaining Canada-U.S. distance for now.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters on Wednesday that the current situation suits both countries quite well; that essential travel was continuing and that “fruitful” conversations between Canada and the United States are happening daily on this very subject.

But Freeland also stressed, with some emphasis, that “national interests” would ultimately prevail on when and whether to open the Canada-U.S. border. By “national interests,” what Freeland means is “the premiers.”

The federal government has all kinds of reasons to extend the shutdown of the Canada-U.S. border beyond June 21, but the country’s premiers are being particularly forceful on this point.

For a group that is normally fractious, the first ministers have been remarkably united throughout the COVID-19 lockdown and are now apparently of one, made-up mind about keeping up a wall between the U.S. and Canada.

Say what you like about Trump, but he does have a knack for making Canadians happy that we live here, not there, especially at this point in history.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, asked this week about the looming deadline for reopening the Canada-U.S. border, made clear he thought the date was approaching too rapidly.

“Itís absolutely critical we tighten up the borders,” Ford said, before launching into a spirited tourism advertisement for vacationing in Ontario this summer – as opposed to the United States.

“You know, we’re used to maybe taking a trip down south, across the border in the summer. Why don’t we look at our province? Why don’t we travel around?”

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said on CBC this week that he and his fellow Atlantic premiers were in talks about creating some kind of bubble around their provinces by July, to encourage their citizens to visit each other, rather than venture south.

Higgs pointed out that most of New Brunswick’s problems with COVID-19 were travel related, so he was happy to join the chorus of premiers wanting to keep the U.S. border closed.

To be clear, it’s not like this is a hard sell to Trudeau on the weekly calls between the first ministers. One federal source said this week that it would be difficult to find anyone at the decision-making level in Ottawa right now who is eager to get things moving at the Canada-U.S. border.

Trudeau was frosty to Trump’s musings a couple of weeks ago too, about holding this year’s G7 meeting in the U.S. as planned this month, saying he’d have to see what was being done to keep people safe.

As usual, one need only consult Twitter to see why Canadians are nervous about how things are unfolding in the United States. The president’s Twitter feed of late is a chaotic jumble of rants about the wave of protests across his country, simultaneously – incredibly – along with calls to get the reopening done already.

Trump’s son Donald Jr. was tweeting this week about a new spike in U.S. COVID cases and blaming the “massive riots and protests” – not Memorial Day weekend, as was originally suggested, based on the incubation time for the virus.

“Give me a break,” Trump Junior said.

Whether it’s Memorial Day or massive protests, that one tweet alone from the Trump family makes a persuasive case that the U.S. doesn’t really have its act together on the post-pandemic future.

Trump tweets are not going to be confused with tourism promotion for the U.S. this summer.

Throughout this whole crisis, Trump hasn’t made many friends among the provinces in Canada. Two months ago, when it looked like the president might be halting the cross-border flow of pandemic-flighting supplies, we’ll recall, Canada’s premiers were unusually vocal with their public condemnations of the president.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney pronounced himself “extremely disappointed” and “insulted” by Trump.

The disappointment apparently persists among all premiers, now similarly of the view that the U.S. stands as an example of everything Canada should avoid in coming out of the pandemic – including travel across the border.

In dividing his own country, Trump has united Canada’s first ministers.

Susan Delacourt is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services

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