BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. Canada, our rugged and even-keeled neighbor to the north, aggressive, peaceful and too small to really much matter in the hurly-burly of global affairs, until last week, when Canada, apparently, found its way into the axis of evil. In the midst of a public feud about trade tariffs in a fraught G7 summit, the president of the United States accused Canada of threatening our national security and personally attacked Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau as, quote, “meek, mild, weak and dishonest,” while other members of Trump’s administration piled on. Here’s White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow.
LARRY KUDLOW: You know, here’s the thing, I mean, he really kind of stabbed us in the back. He did a great disservice to the whole G7. He betrayed --
JAKE TAPPER/CNN: Trudeau did.
LARRY KUDLOW: Yes, he did.
BOB GARFIELD: And White House trade advisor, Peter Navarro.
PETER NAVARRO: There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump.
BOB GARFIELD: The whole episode has suddenly reminded the US press to the presence of a hostile power on our northern border and awakened a slumbering frosty nation in defense of its reputation.
Jesse Brown is a Canadian journalist and host of the CANADALAND podcast. Jesse, welcome to OTM.
JESSE BROWN: Bob Garfield, how are you?
BOB GARFIELD: Splendid, thank you. Okay, so it started with a tariff imposed by Trump on Canadian steel and aluminum, which, apparently, was a tit-for-tat reaction to Canadian tariffs on American dairy products, right?
JESSE BROWN: This is so, and it pains me to say it but the Canadian tariffs on dairy products, probably not a great thing, and Trudeau was even signaling that he had some flexibility there and it’s possible that that detail might have been worked out.
BOB GARFIELD: Because it is kind of naked protectionism on Canada’s part, which not only blocks American exports but makes the cost of milk for Canadians unusually high, right?
JESSE BROWN: I never thought I would be speaking with an American about supply chain management, which is a obsessive preoccupation here in Canada but yes, we have this absurd scheme here that really it has a minuscule effect on Americans and even on American farmers, but Canadian consumers pay much more than they should for milk and cheese.
BOB GARFIELD: How has this event shifted the policy debate?
JESSE BROWN: What was once a debate now is not a debate. You, you need to now be on side with dairy subsidies, regardless of whether you’re in the Liberal or Conservative Party. There was a member of Parliament who was almost the leader of the Conservative Party who has opposed these dairy subsidies for a long time. He was just kicked out of shadow cabinet because he continues to do so. So it is with the leader or you're out. Everybody’s falling into line.
BOB GARFIELD: Trudeau’s reputation had really been waning until this episode, and I guess the beginning of what appeared to be the end of his domestic popularity was this trip to India where, among other things, he [LAUGHS] and his family dressed up in traditional Indian clothing and looked as if they had been costumed by the designers of the It’s a Small World ride at Disney World.
[THE DAILY SHOW CLIP]:
TREVOR NOAH: I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it seems like as Donald Trump becomes more and more un-woke, Justin Trudeau is compensating in the other direction.
[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER/END CLIP]
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Trudeau got called out today by one of India’s most popular politicians. Omar Abdullah tweeted, “Is it just me or is this choreographed cuteness all just a bit much now?”
JESSE BROWN: These embarrassing photographs actually paled in comparison to what happened next when photographs leaked that showed Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, posing next to an individual named Jaspal Atwal who has a criminal past, who is a would-be assassin and who was involved in this longstanding internal controversy in Canada, where Canada has sort of absorbed some of Khalistan Sikh separatist politics. We have a large Sikh community in Canada. This goes back to the Air India bombing. How this individual who apparently had been blacklisted by India got into India, in the first place, but more than that what amateurishness led to him being invited to an official event became something that imperiled Canada's very relationship with our ally India.
22 MINUTES HOST MARK CRITCH: Trudeau’s visit was the most embarrassing thing to happen to India since Apu.
PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: And we celebrated the “100th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.”
MARK CRITCH: Actually, it’s 150 years old, Justin.
Not his best work!
JESSE BROWN: It definitely seemed like Justin Trudeau, the honeymoon Canada had with him was over. So this was definitely a gift from Donald Trump to Justin Trudeau. To Canadians, whatever our domestic issues are, everything gets overshadowed by our [LAUGHS] relationship with America, and if there is an opportunity to stand up to America, no pun intended, it trumps everything else. And the version of the story and the way the media is portraying Justin Trudeau in the United States is very different than the reaction here in Canada. Of course, we get both. But when I look at what your late night comedians are saying about Justin Trudeau or if I read Adam Gopnik waxing on in The New Yorker, any of the other coverage, including Justin Trudeau’s appearance on Meet the Press, how could you hurt nice Canada and this nice boy Justin --
-- is [LAUGHS] the story that’s being told in the States. Here in Canada, it’s much more tough-guy narratives of Nixon calling Pierre Trudeau, the first Prime Minister Trudeau, an [BLEEP]hole and Pierre Trudeau responding "I’ve been called worst things by better people.” We love nothing more than instances where our civilized and sophisticated prime ministers take a stand against American thuggery.
BOB GARFIELD: But, of course, as you say, here we’re less aware of his gaffs and errors and inconsistencies. The media here are just way too busy comparing him to our president.
JESSE BROWN: Trudeau has very effectively positioned himself as Canada's answer to Trump. Of course, that's not true. He was Canada's copycat answer to Obama. We do the same things you do a few years later. Our answer to Trump is Doug Ford who was just elected premier of Ontario and very much ran a Trumpian campaign. So your president has a bully’s instinct for weakness and picking on the fact that Justin Trudeau has a couple of different versions of himself that he pedals is an accurate criticism.
Justin Trudeau ran on an environmentalist platform. He’s since bought a pipeline. He ran on a platform of reconciliation with First Nations. Many of them oppose this pipeline and are still waiting for clean drinking water in their communities. There’s a lot of dissatisfaction with this prime minister. And I’m going to tell you about something that happened as we came into this much larger media scrutiny with this conflict. A story that had been pedaled to Canadian media about an 18-year-old allegation of, of a groping Justin Trudeau who’s quoted as apologizing to a reporter 18 years ago, as a very young man at a music festival in British Columbia, the Canadian media turned up their nose at the story. It was too thin, too old. We don’t know what happened. But, of course, Breitbart ran it after it showed up on Twitter and then it was a hop, skip and a jump to the New York Times.
And so, now we have this Canadian media sphere that won’t even touch stories like that but anyone can get that news, and not necessarily the most factual or responsible versions of it, through American media. Essentially, we have been given a ticket to your circus, and it’s not refundable.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, this is all very funny in a way, but the stakes actually could be quite high. In what ways could this tariff skirmish and insult trading has serious ramifications?
JESSE BROWN: Historically, this is a, an incredibly reckless gambit on Trump’s part and this is playing with fire. It’s playing with the economies, certainly, of Canada but also of America. And could this end in recession, could this end in depression? It’s not without historical precedent.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Jesse, thank you very much.
JESSE BROWN: It’s been a pleasure, thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Jesse Brown is a Canadian journalist and host of the podcast CANADALAND.