02.02.2017 08:55 AM

Anatomy of a phone call

What was everybody in Ottawa talking about yesterday?  The electoral reform thing, for sure – but everyone knew it was a dumb promise, and one that had been without vital signs for months.  What’s happening now – with the NDP leading the way with typically over-the-top hysteria – is what John Turner used to call Ottawa’s “bullshit theatre.”

They may have been talking about the Unpresident’s plan to create “wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity, and it seeks to curtail women’s access to contraception.”  That one would be relevant to Canada, of course, because it would have the effect of creating actual refugees from State-sanctioned persecution in the United States.

It may have been the apparent desire of the fascistic U.S. administration – and, yes, I use the word “fascist” with full knowledge of what it means – to start a war with someone, anyone.  Iran, China, whatever.  They may have been talking about that, because most of us Canadians are within the anticipated blast radius.

But, mostly, I suspect, they were talking about that extraordinary telephone conversation between the leaders of Australia and the U.S.  It was doozy.

I shouldn’t have to mention that Australia and America are the closest of allies. Or that they share intelligence, or that they cooperate on military matters, or that they trade goods and services.  You already knew that.  You already knew they – like us – are very close.

But, in the weekend, not so much.  Here’s a Globe and Mail summary of reporting mainly done by the Washington Post:

U.S. President Donald Trump labeled a refugee swap deal with Australia “dumb” on Thursday after a Washington Post report of an acrimonious telephone call with Australia’s prime minister threatened a rare rift in ties between the two staunch allies.

The Post reported that Trump described the resettlement plan as “the worst deal ever” and accused Australia of trying to export the “next Boston bombers”. It said the call had been scheduled to last an hour but Trump cut it short after 25 minutes when Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tried to turn to subjects such as Syria.

…Turnbull refused to confirm the Post report that Trump, who had earlier spoken to world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, had angrily told him that the call was “the worst so far”.

Political analysts said such acrimony was unprecedented, surpassing even the difficult relations between former U.S. President Richard Nixon and then Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who pulled Australian troops out of the Vietnam War.

…As reports of the conversation hit headlines on both sides of the world, Trump tweeted shortly before midnight in Washington: “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal.”

Want to know what senior folks were discussing in Ottawa yesterday? That’s what they were discussing – that now-infamous phone call between Trump and Turnbull.  It will become the stuff of legend.

Ottawa’s Trump strategy, to date, has been to render itself very, very tiny – so tiny that Trump does not see us. Their approach has been analogous to Justin Trudeau taking the longer route home, so that the bully Trump does not beat him up, and steal his lunch money.

I’ve loudly objected to that “strategy,” here and here, and in a poll I posted yesterday, a majority of you agreed with me. Being a supplicant doesn’t work.

The supplicants will say that it does. The Turnbull-Trump chat shows, they’ll say, that the Unpresident is unhinged, and the smallest thing can provoke him. So: minimize direct contact, say nothing about him, and be as quiet as proverbial church mice for the next four years.  And pass the military rations, would you?

Those of us with an opposite view also think the Trump-Turnbull Telephony is highly significant, for two totally opposite reasons.  One, Trump is so unhinged – I actually told a Hill Times reporter yesterday I wonder if he is suffering from from a chronic case of neurosyphilis, which I rather doubt she will print – that sucking up to him simply will not work.  Turnbull was civil and professional, and look what it got him.  Zero, zippo, zilch.

Two, the Turnbull call demonstrates that the most minuscule bilateral irritant – in this case, what Trump falsely called “thousands” of “illegal” refugees, when in fact it is only 1,250, none of whom are “illegal” – will cause the cause the Unpresident to go berserk.  That’s not all: no one, not even a team of Nobel Prize-winning psychologists, can anticipate what Trump will do or say, ever.  The only thing that is predictable is his unpredictability.

Ipso facto, a Canada-U.S. confrontation is coming.  In his very first week, he did things that affect Canada in myriad ways – on energy, immigration, trade, environment and even reproductive choice.  In his second week, his White House bald-faced lied about the Quebec City massacre, implying that Muslims were somehow to blame – instead of being the victims.  (About that outrage, the Government of Canada did not offer a peep of protest, I told Brian Lilley on CFRA last night.)  A clash of nations is going to happen, whether or not our Prime Minister is walking around the block to avoid the bully.

In conclusion: the Trump-Turnbull call doesn’t suggest Canada should continue to be struck mute about the New World Disorder.  It suggests precisely the opposite.

What will Justin Trudeau do?  Who knows.  Perhaps a phone call to Australia’s Prime Minister is in order.  If nothing else, they can commiserate.




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    Sean Cummings says:


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    bluegreenblogger says:

    I haven’t read the news, so the Turnbill call is pure news to me. I feel about a hundred times better reading it. There are only two Nations in the world heartily licking Trumps spittle, and Australia was at the very front yesterday, champing at the bit to do some nice racism. If Turnbill got punched in the nose, it means the President has 100% totally exploded the only slam dunk in-your-pocket relationship the USA has. It also clears the way for some more, somewhat sterner communications from Ottawa. We cannot fall into a trap of knee jerk responses. This is a slow motion train wreck. it is totally totally obvious now, every day is going to treat us to new indignities, because probably, The President IS Crazy as a loon. So rational, empathetic responses can be prepped and ready to go. But please, I know that a quick response is heartening and all, but it just doesn’t do anything but make us a target, and win us some sympathy when the retaliation smashes our lives apart. Why not just be real smart, and win real influence and allies instead of getting the satisfaction of an insult or two. This isn’t a card game we can sulk about later on, and maybe have a rematch.

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    Kevin says:

    Well, to re-cast this in purely practical terms, how does Canada fare a) if we kiss Trump’s ass and try to get along? Or b) if we don’t kiss Trump’s ass and state clearly what we stand for and act accordingly? As far as I can see it doesn’t matter to the US/Trump what we do and the only difference would be that in one scenario we’ll have our lips planted firmly on American ass.

    Me, I’m all for keeping our dignity and self-respect, whether it’s practical or not.

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      bluegreenblogger says:

      I doubt you will find many Canadians today who would disagree with you today. Even ditching the Iraq war had less consensus in Canada. The President has worked some literally unprecedented magic, and united Canadians. Hopefully United we stand, not fall.

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        daveconstable says:

        Oh, I don’t know, bluegreenblogger, I know a few people who support Trump politics, and I am sure they represent a few more across our land who see things the same way.

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    Sean McLaughlin says:

    Trump’s advisors almost certainly want foreign leaders to attack and criticize Il Duce because this will rally their Fortress America base. Going to war is another part of that strategy.

    It’s important to let Trump fire the first shot so Trudeau maintains the moral high ground, but conflict is an inevitability. The crucial piece of information that we don’t know yet is whether these temper tantrums turn into actual reprisals, what form they take, and how much push back there is from Congress and the bureaucracy. That’s why we have to prepare and wait for the right moment before we act.

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    ABB says:

    Canada needs to have all its friends in the US Congress ready to act, if the shit hits the fan in this successful bilateral relationship.

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    Nick says:

    I’ve come to the same conclusion about the inevitability of conflict with Trump’s America. My arguments were posted in one of Warren’s earlier threads.

    Since conflict is inevitable, I suggest we not wait too long to make a public stand. Right now Trump is still consolidating his power, and we have an excellent chance to help strengthen opposition to him. If Mexico, Canada, and China are all making public noises about trade wars with the US, that means America is facing economic conflict with its three top trading partners. Hardly a recipe for job creation. I have to think at least the State governors would slam the brakes on him. In fact it could lead to impeachment by the Republicans. And if he does back down, that encourages more opposition to his rule. Whereas if Canada is timid and lies low, gradually the protest noises in the US get quieter, Mexico folds, and then when he does come for us – and he *will* – we would be largely alone. Not to mention it’s a cowardly strategy.

    A couple of days ago I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and cc’d our Liberal MP. I asked Prime Minister Trudeau to publicly stand up to neo-fascism generally, and Donald Trump specifically. I reminded him that under a previous Liberal government, Canada had faced fascism and helped to overcome it. I urged him to form a national unity government with the other parties so that all our leaders could speak out in unity. I hope to receive a positive response.

    “May you live in interesting times” is definitely a curse.

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    Michael Bussiere says:

    But don’t forget what Jean Chretien said about Jacques Plante. Don’t come out of the net until somebody takes a dirty shot at you. Until then, keep a close eye on the play.

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    Peter says:

    If Trump really is all you say he is and poses the existential threat to us you say he does, shouldn’t we have a strategy that goes beyond speaking out in opposition? Double the defence budget, impose conscription, prepare for sanctions, etc.? There seems to be a disconnect (or something very Canadian) in thinking the way to deal with a warmongering fascist on our border who is also commander-in-chief of the world’s strongest military is to hit him hard with repeated doses of Canadian indignation.

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      Robert Frindt says:

      LOL !

      Well, Canada could form a coalition with other anti-American nations against Trump’s “anti-democratic” nature and “violations” of human rights.

      Countries like: China, Russia, N Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Serbia, Pakistan… hey wait a minute… !

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        daveconstable says:

        Evo Morales has invited Mexico to join a couple of organizations that include Caribbean and South American nations. He says Mexico often calls itself North American (geographically, I guess it is), but it has clear language, and cultural ties to their neighbours to the south.

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        doconnor, a slave to pompous scientism says:

        The anti-Trump coalition would be different then the anti-American coalition. It would be basically every other country except Russia.

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      Nick says:

      Hi, I’m not suggesting we oppose him with indignation and snowballs. We definitely need an overarching strategy.

      A government public statement of opposition against the recent actions and messages sent by the Trump government is only the first step – but a vitally important one. It’s a signal. It allows us to rally around as a country, start to discuss what is actually a national crisis, and sends a message of hope to potential allies (especially including many Americans). That’s why the other party leaders need to be equally involved in crafting and sending the message. How do we have these debates if we are not sure what our government is going to do, or put up with?

      Once that’s done we can figure out what practical resistance means. It depends on circumstances, our national interest, and our resolve. I’m staying away from any talk about military opposition because I think the immediate danger to Canada is economic, political, and social, and that’s terrifying enough.

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      bluegreenblogger says:

      Presumably our Government does have a strategy. The question is what is the desired outcome? What, exactly, does that strategy hope to achieve? Your automatic assumption is that our defense budget holds the solution to an existential threat. Are we actually at risk of a physical invasion and occupation? Almost certainly not is the correct answer, despite an outrageously large imbalance in force, it is probably beyond the capacity of the US forces to impose an occupation on Canada. I think that there is an existential political threat, but it falls short of physical conquest. In the absence of a rules based trading system, we run the risk of being isolated, and stripped bare by political coercion. There are multiple threats to Canada emerging on many different fronts, but I am thinking that strategically, we will need powerful friends and allies for two different campaigns. The campaign to retain a Liberal international trade system, and the campaign to assure our military and physical security. The common interests in free democratic principles is as good a unifying factor as any. We cannot hope for a return to the US led order, so perhaps the goal should be to control the major powers, to eliminate the power the UN veto gives them, and constrain them with a real alliance of middle powers. There is no fucking way we should ever again accede to a world order that cements some other nations power in place. Look what trusting the USA got us, a broken system and a crazy failing state next door.

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        Nick says:

        Excellent post. We might be ideally placed to influence such a future world order…given that we are likely to be part of some of the major trading deals and well placed to broker business deals and provide services between USA, Mexico, post-Brexit Britain, EU, China, and whatever the TPP becomes. We should also reinforce internal trade (the upcoming interprovincial trade agreement is a great start) as well as trade with blue States. This would collectively reduce our political, social, and economic vulnerability to whatever is happening in the US.

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    Charlie says:

    Relating to the phone-call, White House representatives say it came at the end of a very busy day when Trump was exhausted.


    Two weeks in and the stamina is already running low, taking a toll on that famous temperament Trump constantly bragged about.

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      bluegreenblogger says:

      That’s OK, he will take a nice vacay now to recuperate for round two. Maybe that is the pattern, two weeks of manic tweeting followed by a month on the beach.

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    PJ says:

    Perhaps a boxing match is in order. My money’s on JT. I think at some point JT has to take a stance and publicly denounce Trumps bigotry and his reckless handling of foreign policy.
    The Canada -US commerce is far too important than any President.
    A trade war will hurt the US.

    I do recall when PM Pearson speaking at Temple University suggested the US should pull out of Vietnam LBJ was pissed. He told Pearson : “You f,ed me on the Auto pact and now you come here and piss on my carpet. ”
    The point is it did not do irreparable harm to the Canada US relationship.

    At some point establishment Republicans are going to have to check their manhood and put Trump and Bannon in their place and reign them in, in the same way Joe McCarthy was censured.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Congress will act against Trump because American business wants NAFTA and more trade agreements including the left for dead TPP. That’s the way it goes when you are already long ago bought and paid for.

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