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Canada's conservatives urgently need to reassess their dalliance with Donald Trump

Photo: German federal press office

A photograph of last weekend's G7 conclave in Quebec showing several national leaders apparently trying to persuade U.S. President Donald Trump to act like a grownup was doing the rounds on social media in the aftermath of the post-summit trainwreck.

With the G7 gathering in La Malbaie already nearly universally acknowledged as a debacle thanks to Trump's erratic behaviour and bizarre attacks on Canada and its prime minister, the story the image suggests is at once tragic and hilarious.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, leans across the table, a look of disbelief on her face, as if she were trying just one final time to get Trump to snap out of it. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe stands in the background, not quite rolling his eyes in either disgust or dismay. Trump, arms crossed defensively, looks like the little boy who ate all the cherry Jell-O and feels no remorse. Everything about his posture says, "Fuck You!" To the president's right, John Bolton, his chief of staff and Iago, surveys the tableau squinty-eyed, presumably pondering what to say to Trump, who always takes the advice of the last person he talks to, the instant they're alone on Air Force One. The president of France, the prime minister of Britain and other minor players look on aghast.

There's enough to be read in that picture for a book.

What did the Canadian right-wing social media rage machine make of it? Not quite attuned to their cooler-headed leaders' assessment of the situation, they initially jumped on the fact Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wasn't visible in the shot -- no surprise, since it was taken by a photographer employed by the German government, whose job presumably was to make Merkel look good.

This meant Trudeau wasn't doing anything, some of them suggested, although, as Russian President Vladimir Putin proves, you didn't even have to be in the room, let alone the photo, to cast a shadow.

Now that Trump has declared himself to be an enemy of Canada and his flunkies have consigned our prime minister to a special corner of hell -- language harsher than American presidents past used for the likes of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi -- the leadership of the Canadian right appears to be cautiously reassessing its love affair with the U.S. president.

Leastways, in what is clearly seen among rational people on both sides of the border as a serious breach between longstanding allies caused by the president's disordered behaviour, Conservative leaders in Canada deemed it prudent to stand with Trudeau rather than face the consequences from Canadian voters who were instinctively doing the same thing.

"We will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Prime Minister and the people of Canada. My number one goal is to protect jobs in Ontario, starting with my unwavering support for our steel and aluminum workers," tweeted Doug Ford, the Progressive Conservative premier-elect of Ontario and no fan of Trudeau, whose name he couldn't quite bring himself to mention.

"I'm in complete agreement with the Prime Minister's statement," tweeted Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney in what surely must be a first for the former Harper government cabinet minister. "A reasonable, balanced and firm assertion that Canada will not be bullied, and that we will retaliate if the US Administration does not end its attack on our steel exports."

Even former Conservative PM Stephen Harper himself managed to choke out some mild criticism of Trump, although you could tell from his qualifications his heart wasn't really in it.

Known Trump fanboys on the Canadian political right are mostly gritting their teeth and keeping their own counsel for the time being. The Conservative rank and file and rage machine will presumably get the idea and bob along in their wake, at least for now.

Still, Canadian movement conservatives really need to reassess their views of Trump, now that he has turned on Canada, other members of the Western alliance and the trading regime they purport to support.

Just for starters, they might want to reconsider re-tweeting everything he says that's critical of aspects of the Canadian economy they disapprove of lest they appear to be buying into the rest of his program, including the openly anti-Canadian parts.

One measure of which way the Canadian right is going will be whom they invite to clambakes like Preston Manning's annual get-together for the ideological right in the nation's capital, which has a history of warmly welcoming some pretty sketchy foreign characters, such as former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, but so far no outright enemies of Canada.

But the real test will be what they do when the next U.S. presidential election rolls around in 2020. Will Conservative Party activists be crossing the Canada-U.S. border once again to campaign for the Republicans, and perhaps for President Trump himself?

What's next as Washington's geopolitical dysfunction continues?

Having gone a long way to splitting the Western alliance asunder, President Trump is now off to Singapore to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, a man seemingly more to his taste than Prime Minister Trudeau, perhaps for obvious reasons.

Another Trump temper tantrum like the one Canada experienced on the weekend may risk engulfing Asia in a nuclear war.

On the other hand, having imposed a heavy steel tariff on his country's best and most consistent friend, perhaps he can fix the United States' under-capacity in steel production by signing a deal with North Korea's Chollima Steel Complex to provide what the U.S. Navy needs for its next generation of obsolete aircraft carriers.

As New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman concluded Saturday, in the history of the Western alliance "there has never been a disaster like the G7 meeting that just took place … it will damage America's reputation as a reliable ally for decades to come."

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: German federal press office

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