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Why Canada won’t say a word about Trump’s return to politics

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The Canadian government has an unequivocal position on what it intends to say regarding the just-announced political comeback of Donald Trump: nothing.

Two years after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blamed the then-U.S. president for inciting a riot in an effort to cling to power, the Canadian government intends to keep mum.

Conversations with Canadian officials in recent days made clear they have no intention of voicing any revulsion they might be feeling in light of the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

But already, the mere idea of Trump returning to power is being discussed discreetly among participants within international institutions.

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Two of those institutions happened to be meeting last week when Trump announced another presidential run: NATO and the COP27 climate conference.

Trump’s announcement coincided with an emergency gathering of NATO leaders after a missile landed in Poland, and with UN climate talks unfolding in Egypt.

The potential implications for both of those institutions is obvious. Trump tried withdrawing from the UN climate pact. And he threatened to leave NATO or severely undermine it, while different former aides said they feared that, in a second term, he might really withdraw.

 

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Donald Trump officially launched his 2024 U.S. presidential campaign, setting the stage for a potential rematch with President Joe Biden. But it comes at a time when Trump’s influence within the Republican Party is divided.

Canada’s representative to NATO during the Trump years declined to describe what talks were like at the time because, she said, the confidentiality of conversations is a sacrosanct principle among military allies.

But when asked to assess the potential effect of a Trump comeback, Kerry Buck was blunt.

“It can do a lot of damage,” Buck, now retired from government, told CBC News. “In Ukraine, specifically, and everywhere else.”

Watching nervously in Europe

Buck said certain planks of NATO’s just-adopted strategic document would be called into question if Trump returned to office, like the value of alliances in dealing with China and climate change being viewed as a security threat.

To be clear, there is no NATO worth speaking of without the United States; the Americans account for almost 70 per cent of the alliance’s total defence spending.

But NATO insiders’ immediate concern isn’t Trump pulling out; it’s that he might severely weaken it, by calling into doubt its collective-defence clause.

The former president has been a topic of consternation lately in Brussels, where NATO is headquartered. One NATO-watcher there said Europeans  nervously eyed the recent U.S. midterm elections for signs of a Trump MAGA resurgence.

Republican support for funding and arming Ukraine has been softening and the idea of the U.S. Congress cutting off that assistance would have untold ramifications.

Destroyed Russian tanks and armoured vehicles are seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, last week. A big unknown: what will the Ukraine-Russia outlook be on Jan. 20, 2025, when the next U.S. president takes office? (Andrew Kravchenk/The Associated Press)

But Chris Skaluba said there was relief in Brussels over the outcome of the midterms, and hope that the poor showing of Trump-style nationalists has strengthened the pro-NATO faction in Washington.

Now, he said, people in Europe are eyeing the 2024 U.S. election.

Skaluba said there are still many wild cards and unknowns about how the world might look on Jan. 20, 2025, the date of the next U.S. presidential inauguration.

“It’s hard to predict, given so much will have changed,” said Skaluba, a NATO analyst at the Atlantic Council think-tank, who previously spent over a decade in the U.S. government, at the Pentagon and in other security-related roles and as a liaison to NATO.

“What is the state of the Ukraine conflict? Is Putin still hanging on to power? … Has European and Canadian defence spending continued to rise? Will NATO have carved out an important role in countering China?”

He said all these things would matter to the precise implications of a second Trump presidency. In general, Skaluba would expect the type of turbulence we saw between Trump and allies from 2016 and 2020. But he added two caveats.

One, he said, is that the stakes are far higher in Eastern Europe than they were in 2016. Skaluba also said Trump is more experienced now in using the levers of power to get what he wants.

Consternation at climate conference

At the climate conference in Egypt last week, one participant shuddered at the thought of another Trump presidency.

A protest calling for money for climate action is seen at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Nov. 11. If he were to be elected president again, Trump would be unlikely to support current U.S. climate policies. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

“That would be disastrous,” said Stela Herschmann, an environmental lawyer with Observatorio do Clima, a network of Brazilian NGOs.

“The world has no time to waste on negationist [climate-change-denying] leaders.”

It was a difficult enough conference as it stands: countries struggled over two weeks to piece together a deal that delayed a number of hard choices.

They pledged to create a fund to help poor countries affected by climate change, but with no as-yet-specified dollar figure attached to it.

Try picturing a President Trump signing a budget bill, passed by a Republican-controlled Congress, that funds UN climate support for poor countries. It’s no slam dunk, to put it mildly.

However, on some aspects of energy and climate policy, Trump’s pro-pipeline position is actually closer to that of the Canadian government.

His stated support for the Keystone XL pipeline and likely support in the Line 5 dispute would likely be welcomed in Ottawa, though it’s too early to tell whether it would affect either pipeline: the former project is currently dead, and the latter is under dispute.

Other countries watching quietly, too

The Canadian government will not opine on these possibilities.

Nor will it comment on a consequential implication of Trump’s candidacy, one spelled out in a bluntly worded news lead from U.S. broadcaster NPR announcing Trump’s run: He tried to overthrow an election, and inspired a deadly riot to stay in office, and now he wants power again.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned Trump’s actions after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Canada has plenty of company in its discretion.

Other U.S. allies told CBC News they’re not saying a word about Trump’s candidacy. Spain won’t comment, Germany won’t say anything on the record. Mexico did comment — only to say it’s preserving its longstanding policy of not interfering in U.S. politics.

One Canadian official, speaking on background, said that to weigh in on the return of any politician, even this politician, would be both inappropriate and ineffective.

Inappropriate because, the official said, Canadians wouldn’t appreciate that kind of foreign commentary on our own politics; and ineffective, because it would achieve nothing aside from damaging our country’s ability to deal with Republicans, at the federal and state level.

A just-retired Canadian diplomat strongly urges Ottawa to keep mum on this topic. While in some countries, it might make sense to voice concern about a political candidate, she said it makes no sense to do that right now in the U.S.

Just-retired diplomat: ‘Zero’ benefit to commenting on Trump

Louise Blais said she participated in weekly conferences with Canada’s U.S.-based diplomats and they never even discussed the idea of raising general concerns about Trump.

“This has never, ever, ever come up in those conversations,” said Blais, who was posted in Washington, the U.S. Southeast and in New York at the UN.

“There’s a sense that while it may feel good in the moment, and it may feel politically expedient at home, whatever we would say would have zero chance of actually effecting change. So the question is: why would we try to interfere if there won’t be a positive outcome anyway, and we’ve just complicated our relationship?”

In addition to that, she said, Americans aren’t asking foreigners to speak up. Neither Democrats nor Republicans, she said, are looking to other countries to get involved in U.S. politics, unlike some countries where a political faction might plead for outside help.

If anything, she said, Canada should be looking to build out its relationships across the U.S. political spectrum: on the right, left, alt-right, far left, at the federal and state levels.

Trump, right, extends his hand to Trudeau in 2017 during their first meeting at the White House. After a tumultuous stretch, they managed to renegotiate NAFTA. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

She said hearing people’s thoughts, collecting their cell numbers and maintaining a dialogue over time is the essential work of diplomats.

Blais was one of the first Canadian officials to build connections with the original team around Trump in 2016, as a consul in the U.S. South, where she met policy advisors who later went on to become administration officials.

Toward the end of her diplomatic career, she set up meetings with some southern U.S. senators when Canada was lobbying for changes to an electric-vehicle tax credit.

So the plan, in Ottawa, is not to jeopardize relationships.

In the past, events have played havoc with those plans. In late 2015, Trudeau referred to Trump’s then-proposed Muslim ban as ignorant, irresponsible and hateful.

As Trump became the Republican nominee, Trudeau became more guarded. That’s unlike a former Canadian ambassador to Washington who expressed a clear favourite during the 2000 U.S. election.

Some Republicans still felt Canadians talked too much during the 2016 campaign: Blais recalled one famous politician telling her back then that Ottawa had already undermined its relationship with the incoming president.

We’ll see if the silence holds. To torture an old saying, a two-year presidential campaign is an eternity in politics.

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Most Canadians think there could be a 2023 recession: survey – CTV News

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Nine out of 10 Canadians believe there could be a recession in 2023, according to a new national survey, with four out of 10 calling it “likely.”

A new survey conducted by Nanos Research on behalf of CTV News asked more than 1,000 Canadians if they believed it was likely Canada would have a recession next year.

The vast majority answered that it was “somewhat likely” (44 per cent) or “likely” (42 per cent).

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Less than one per cent believed a recession next year was “not likely,” while around seven per cent said it was “somewhat not likely” and six per cent were unsure.

This survey comes after a Royal Bank of Canada report predicted in October that Canada could be headed for a recession as early as the first quarter of 2023.

That same report found that the average Canadian household could lose $3,000 of buying power next year. A myriad of factors are contributing to this threat of recession, experts say, with cooling housing markets and unemployment levels showing the weakening of our economy.

High inflation has been a recurring issue in 2022, with grocery prices climbing at a pace not seen in decades within the last few months, according to Statistics Canada.

HOW THE CANADIAN OUTLOOK VARIES

Although a strong majority of Canadians are predicting a potential recession, according to this new survey, those results were not even across the board.

Men were slightly more likely to answer that a recession was somewhat likely/likely, at 88 per cent compared to 85 per cent of women, although the same 7.5 per cent of men and women believed it was somewhat unlikely/likely.

When split into age brackets, those aged 35 to 54 were the most likely to believe that a recession was coming in 2023, with 90.4 per cent answering likely/somewhat likely, compared to 88.4 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 years, and 82.6 per cent of those aged 55 plus.

The difference was more stark when it came to the percentage of respondents who believed a recession was somewhat unlikely/unlikely, with the percentages increasing as the ages of respondents did. Just 2.7 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds thought a 2023 recession was at least somewhat unlikely, compared to 6.5 per cent of 35- to 54-year-olds and 11.3 per cent of those aged 55 plus.

The rates of those who answered that a recession was at least somewhat likely were relatively even across the provinces, with 87 to 88 per cent of the Atlantic provinces, Quebec and Ontario choosing this option.

Around 84 per cent of respondents from the Prairies and 84.9 per cent of respondents from British Columbia answered that they believed a recession in 2023 was at least somewhat likely.

METHODOLOGY

Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1025 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between Nov. 27 and 29, 2022, as part of an omnibus survey. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online. The sample included both land- and cell-lines across Canada. The results were statistically checked and weighted by age and gender using the latest Census information and the sample is geographically stratified to be representative of Canada.

Individuals randomly called using random digit dialing with a maximum of five call backs.

The margin of error for this survey is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

This study was commissioned by CTV News and the research was conducted by Nanos Research.

Note: Charts may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

 

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Nexus applicants can shuffle off to Buffalo as Canada, U.S. expand pilot project

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An experimental bid to rescue the troubled Nexus trusted-traveller program between Canada and the United States has expanded to the Peace Bridge.

Nexus applicants in Canada can now sit down with border agents on opposite sides of the link between Fort Erie, Ont., and Buffalo, N.Y., New York congressman Rep. Brian Higgins said Thursday.

That’s a departure from what used to be the standard practice of being interviewed by U.S. and Canadian agents at the same time — a process that hasn’t taken place on Canadian soil since before the pandemic.

The new procedure at the Peace Bridge crossing is an extension of a pilot project that began in late September at the Thousand Islands crossing between Alexandria Bay, N.Y., and Lansdowne, Ont., just east of Kingston.

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In both locations, Nexus applicants in Canada submit to two separate interviews: first on the Canadian side with a member of the Canada Border Services Agency, then with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on the American side.

“Border management has gotten more complicated than it has to be,” Higgins said in a statement.

“The U.S. and Canada are longtime friends with interconnected economies. We need to find ways to break down the barriers at our border to better support the flow of people and goods between neighbours.”

The pilot project is considered a partial, short-term solution to the bilateral impasse that has led to U.S. agents refusing to staff Nexus enrolment centres on Canadian soil over what they consider inadequate legal protection.

It’s an “important stopgap,” Higgins said, but the fact it’s needed at all is proof that the two countries have a long way to go before Nexus is back to its pre-pandemic strength.

He called it “a reminder that the U.S. and Canada still need to fulfil the potential of the agreement reached in 2015 to facilitate Nexus application procedures in a seamless way to the benefit of both Canadians and Americans.”

The backlog of Nexus applications in Canada reached as high as 350,000 earlier in the fall, but has been slowly declining since the pilot project began. The Canada Border Services Agency officials did not immediately provide updated numbers.

Higgins said once the project is fully underway at the Peace Bridge, as many as 500 applications could be processed there each week.

It’s a far cry from how Nexus interviews have traditionally been conducted in both countries, with applicants sitting down for an in-person interview that’s jointly conducted by officers from the two agencies in the same room.

That process has been going on as normal in the U.S. since April, when the 13 Nexus centres south of the border reopened for joint interviews after a two-year pandemic-driven hiatus.

Customs and Border Protection, however, won’t send agents to staff centres in Canada without being guaranteed the same legal protections they enjoy on U.S. soil — a condition the federal government in Canada considers a non-starter.

Officials with CBP have so far refused to comment publicly on the dispute.

The impasse turned into a full-blown diplomatic row in October when Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s U.S. envoy, said the program was being “held hostage” to a unilateral attempt to renegotiate the bilateral preclearance agreement under which Nexus was established.

Business leaders and elected officials in both countries have been pressing the two sides to find a solution, describing Nexus as a critical component of the cross-border trade and commercial ties between Canada and the U.S.

That includes a coalition of U.S. lawmakers — Higgins, Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) — who wrote to their Canadian counterparts earlier this month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2022.

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Inquiry into Emergencies Act urged to recommend greater oversight of police

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Lawmakers should define how to maintain government oversight of law enforcement while ensuring police independence more clearly, experts told a public inquiry Thursday, arguing that the understanding of where to draw the line has long been too vague.

The concepts of police oversight and independence came up time and again over six weeks of fact-finding testimony at the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is investigating the federal Liberal government’s use of the Emergencies Act last winter.

Throughout the inquiry hearings, police and politicians described a separation between police operations and policy, and said politicians and police boards should never direct operations.

The line was often described as a separation between church and state.

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“For me, it’s pretty clear. Anything operational, we’re advising what’s happening, but we’re not taking direction on how to do things,” RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki testified on Nov. 15. She suggested the federal government should use legislation to more clearly define the line that politicians should not cross.

While an expert panel of witnesses agreed Thursday that the line should be more clearly defined, Guelph University political science professor Kate Puddister said such a stark distinction is unhelpful.

“My perspective is that this distinction, in an attempt to draw a clear line between the two, does a disservice,” she said. “This formulation allows governments to shirk responsibilities with respect to policing, perhaps as a method of political strategy.”

The commission is looking at the events that led up to the government’s emergency declaration in response to the weeks-long “Freedom Convoy” protest in Ottawa and similar protests at border crossings across Canada.

Beyond assessing whether the move was appropriate, the inquiry also has a mandate to make recommendations about how to modernize the law and suggest areas where further study could be warranted.

After hours of testimony from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau concluded the first phase of the inquiry last Friday, the commission has turned to a second phase of expert testimony on a range of issues related to the protests.

The police governance experts who testified Thursday reaffirmed the importance of police services being independent of political interference. Otherwise, they risk being seen as “a tool of the government of the day,” as Ryan Teschner, the executive director of the Toronto Police Services Board, said in his testimony.

But all agreed that police need more oversight over some elements of their operations.

“We have for too long had a rather vague and sometimes often overblown conception of police independence from government,” Teschner said.

Michael Kempa, a criminologist with the University of Ottawa, suggested legislators “simply jettison the term ‘operations’ altogether,” and define police independence “in terms of the exercise of their powers of investigation, arrest and the laying of charges.”

The experts also said that all police services in Canada should have some kind of civilian oversight body, such as a police commission or board.

Most urban police services in Canada are watched by such entities, but provincial police and RCMP are not. The RCMP commissioner reports directly to the federal minister of public safety.

Creating a board would mean that any political direction to police would be public and documented, and it would ensure that “ministerial direction is appropriate and given when necessary,” Puddister said.

Commissioner Paul Rouleau said some of the panel’s recommendations may make their way into his final report, though he wouldn’t say which.

During a second afternoon session, experts discussed the ways that different levels of government, including First Nations governments, work together in an emergency.

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, recommended that the Emergencies Act be ammended to require consultation with First Nations in addition to provincial and municipal governments.

“Neither the Emergencies Act or the Emergency Management Act mentions First Nations as governments. Everyone else gets notice,” Sayers said.

“Yet when emergencies happen, it is First Nations lives at stake, their lands, resources and their ability to carry out their section 35 protected rights.”

The specifics about which First Nations should be consulted could vary depending on the emergency at hand, she said.

Cal Corley, CEO of the Community Safety Knowledge Alliance, said more consultation between levels of government could prevent the need to invoke an emergency in the first place.

He said if there are “intentional proactive measures” between federal, provincial, territorial, First Nations and municipal governments to address large-scale protests and emergencies, “it should, in most cases and circumstances, establish conditions that negate the need for governments to even consider invoking the federal Emergencies Act.”

Rouleau and his team must deliver their findings by Feb. 6, with the commission’s final report to be made public by Feb. 20.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2022.

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