Inside caucus, Trudeau advises nervous Liberal MPs not to publicly criticize U.S. president-elect Trump

Liberal MPs are concerned and in a wait-and-see mode to see how things will unfold after Donald Trump officially becomes U.S. president on Jan. 20

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured in this file photo, held a conference call with the Liberal caucus on Wednesday, Nov. 9, and advised MPs not to make an negative comment about president-elect Donald Trump. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

By ABBAS RANA

PUBLISHED : Monday, Nov. 28, 2016 12:00 AM

PARLIAMENT HILL—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a hastily arranged conference call with his national caucus on Nov. 9 to calm Grit nerves after Donald Trump’s unexpected U.S. presidential win and to advise MPs not to publicly criticize the controversial U.S. president-elect.

“Any time you have major events on the world stage that have implications for Canada, you want to make sure that the party understands what the leader’s thinking and what next steps look like and how we proceed,” Liberal MP Adam Vaughan (Spadina-Fort York, Ont.), parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), told The Hill Times. “It’s part of the relationship that the prime minister has with the caucus. It’s a very strong and open relationship.”

Mr. Vaughan said the 15-minute caucus conference call was arranged because the House wasn’t sitting that week and MPs were in their ridings. Mr. Trudeau did not take any questions. Mr. Vaughan declined to share what Mr. Trudeau said in the call, citing caucus confidentiality.

Sources said Mr. Trudeau first made a congratulatory telephone call to Mr. Trump on Nov. 9, before making the call to Liberal MPs that afternoon at around 3 p.m. Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet ministers also discussed Mr. Trump’s win.

  

Liberal MP Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.), co-chairman of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group and a seven-term MP, also declined to share anything from the conference call, but said it was aimed to reassure MPs that the top government officials are looking at all aspects of Mr. Trump’s upset win over Democratic U.S.-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8 and were working hard to ensure that the bilateral relationship between the two countries remains strong under the new U.S. administration.

“It was a call to reassure MPs that the executive branch of our government is on it, and let’s take this a step at a time,” Mr. Easter told The Hill Times.

Liberal sources, who did not want to be identified because of caucus confidentiality, told The Hill Times that the prime minister’s conference call was not pre-scheduled and was made only after Mr. Trump won the election.

Multiple Liberal sources said the prime minister told MPs not to make any derogatory comment about the president-elect that could negatively affect the relationship between Canada and the upcoming, new U.S. administration.

  

Liberal MPs were also told during the call that top government officials were already reaching out to Mr. Trump’s transition team to develop an effective working relationship between the two countries and to ensure that any trade irritants will be resolved amicably.

Mr. Trudeau and outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama enjoyed a close and friendly relationship. Mr. Obama hosted Mr. Trudeau and a Canadian delegation for a state dinner in March, the first time a U.S. president did that for a Canadian prime minister in almost 20 years.

Last week, Mr. Trump announced his pledge in a YouTube video to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal on the first day of his presidency. During the campaign, the president-elect described the North American Free Trade Agreement as a “disaster” and promised to either renegotiate or scrap it.

Among the things Mr. Trump said during an interview with The New York Times last week was that he would not prioritize efforts to prosecute Ms. Clinton over her use of a private email server for government communications, that he no longer favours using torture as a means of extracting information from suspected terrorists, that he is “open” to the Paris climate-change accord that he once promised to abandon, and he denounced white nationalists.

  

In interviews last week, Liberal MPs said they were nonetheless “concerned” about Mr. Trump’s shocking election win and, given his divisive and bombastic rhetoric during the election campaign, said it’s unclear what approach the new administration will adopt to deal with issues such as NAFTA, climate change and the environment, and softwood lumber.

Though Michigan’s results were not yet certified last week, it was close to certain Mr. Trump had won the state, giving him 306 electoral college votes to Ms. Clinton’s 232. However, results last week showed that Ms. Clinton had a lead of almost two million over Mr. Trump in terms of the popular vote.

“My reaction is probably just like everybody else’s: quite concerned. Hopefully, he will understand how important the relationship is between the U.S. and many of the other countries of the world,” said six-term Liberal MP Judy Sgro (Humber River-Black Creek, Ont.) in an interview last week. “We [hope] he’ll put away his confrontational style and now that he’s president and work with all of the other countries in the betterment of this world we live in.”

During the Republican Party primary and the general election campaign, Mr. Trump made sexist and racist comments against women, visible minorities, criticized some U.S. war heroes, appeared to back the Russian annexation of Ukraine, questioned the usefulness of NATO, and called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. Mr. Trump also promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to stop the inflow of illegal immigrants to the U.S. and claimed that Mexico will pay for the construction of this wall.

During the U.S. presidential campaign, about 12 women came forward to publicly accuse Mr. Trump of sexual assault which he denied in all cases and claimed he was a “victim” of political smear tactics aimed at undermining his presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump’s election has caused anxiety within the U.S. and internationally and no one seems to know what to expect from his presidency.

Van Jones, a high-profile CNN commentator and former White House political staffer, told reporters last week Tuesday in Toronto before speaking at a Broadbent Institute event that it’s hard to predict what Mr. Trump will do.

“We don’t know what Trump is going to do because Trump doesn’t know what Trump is going to do,” Mr. Jones said.

Even after Mr. Trudeau’s reassurances, Liberal MPs said they were in a wait-and-see mode to see how things unfold after Mr. Trump officially takes over his responsibilities on Jan. 20, 2017.

“A lot of the issues—whether we’re talking trade, or the Canada-U.S. border, and we’ve been really moving forward to try to make that as seamless as possible—it’s hard to say what he’s thinking, but time will tell,” said Ms. Sgro.

Liberal MP Darrell Samson (Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook, N.S.) also echoed Ms. Sgro’s views.

“It’s going to be different until we know what will be the areas that he would try to change and to what extent the changes will take place,” said Mr. Samson who described his reaction as “shocked, surprised and concerned” at Mr. Trump’s election.

Mr. Easter said he believes that Mr. Trump will likely moderate his views once he officially becomes president, predicting that the governing responsibilities will make him soften his positions.

Moreover, he said the U.S. government is based on a system of checks and balances and any radical changes in the bilateral trade relationship will require approval from the Congress which is not automatic. He said that both countries have a trade relationship worth $2.4-billion each day and nine million Americans depend it for their jobs. So, Mr. Easter said it would not be an easy step for Mr. Trump to make any sweeping change in the trade relationship between the two countries.

But he said the Canadian government should undertake an aggressive effort to make Canadian views known to the new U.S. administration on issues such as softwood lumber and NAFTA so that they understand Canada’s position and the rationale behind them.

“Now the reality of government has to fall upon the shoulders of the president-elect and we have to monitor where it goes,” Mr. Easter said. “We have to be extremely vigilant and we’ll have to be extremely aggressive, in terms of getting our message across when everything settles now.”

Meanwhile, The New Yorker reported last week that the morning after Mr. Trump’s win, Mr. Obama called all White House staff to the Oval Office for a meeting to reassure them that, “this is not the apocalypse.” The New Yorker described White House staff as “sombre, hollowed out, some fighting tears, humiliated by the defeat, fearful of autocracy’s moving vans pulling up to the door.”

The Hill Times