The Canadian government has an unequivocal position on what it hears about the just-announced political comeback of Donald Trump: nothing.
Two years after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blame the then US president for inciting a riot in an effort to cling to power, the Canadian government intends to remain silent.
Conversations with Canadian officials in recent days made it clear that they had no intention of expressing any revulsion they might feel in light of the events of January 6, 2021.
But already, the mere idea of Trump returning to power is being quietly discussed among participants in international institutions.
Two of these institutions came together last week when Trump announced another presidential race: NATO and the COP27 climate conference.
Trump’s announcement coincided with a emergency rally NATO leaders after the landing of a missile in Poland, and with the UN climate talks takes place in Egypt.
The potential implications for these two institutions are obvious. trump tried withdrawal of the UN climate pact. And he threatened to leave NATO or severely undermine this, while different ancient aids expressed concern that, in a second term, he could really withdraw.
WATCH | Trump announces his candidacy for the presidency in 2024:
Canada’s representative to NATO during the Trump years declined to describe what the talks were like at the time because, she said, confidentiality of conversations is a sacrosanct principle between military allies.
But when asked to assess the potential effect of a Trump comeback, Kerry Buck was frank.
“It can do a lot of damage,” Buck, now retired from government, told CBC News. “In Ukraine, specifically, and everywhere else.”
Looking nervously in Europe
Buck said some NATO boards just adopted strategic document would be called into question if Trump returns to power, such as the value of alliances in relations with China and climate change being seen as a security threat.
To be clear, there is no NATO worth mentioning without the United States; the Americans represent almost 70% of the alliance’s total defense expenses.
But the immediate concern of NATO insiders is not that Trump is stepping down; is that he could severely weaken itby questioning his collective defense clause.
The former president has been a subject of consternation lately in Brussels, where NATO is headquartered. A NATO observer said Europeans were watching the recent US midterm elections nervously for signs of a resurgence of Trump MAGA.
Republican support for funding and arming Ukraine has been softening and the idea of the US Congress cutting that aid would have untold ramifications.
But Chris Skaluba said there was relief in Brussels over the midterms outcome, and hoped the bad display Trump-style nationalists bolstered the pro-NATO faction in Washington.
Now, he said, Europeans are watching the 2024 US election.
Skaluba said there are still many wildcards and unknowns about what the world might look like on January 20, 2025, the date of the next US presidential inauguration.
“It’s hard to predict, given that so much will have changed,” said Skaluba, a NATO analyst at the Atlantic Council think tank, who has already spent more than a decade with the US government, Pentagon and other security related roles and as NATO liaison.
“What is the state of the conflict in Ukraine? Is Putin still in power? … Has European and Canadian defense spending continued to rise? Will NATO have carved out an important role for itself in the fight against China?
He said all of these things would be important to the precise implications of a second Trump presidency. In general, Skaluba would expect the kind of turbulence we saw between Trump and his allies from 2016 to 2020. But he added two caveats.
The first, he said, is that the stakes are much higher in Eastern Europe than they were in 2016. Skaluba also said Trump is now more experienced in using leverage power to get what he wants.
Consternation at climate conference
At the climate conference in Egypt last week, one attendee shuddered at the thought of another Trump presidency.
“It would be disastrous,” said Stela Herschmann, an environmental lawyer at the Observatorio do Clima, a network of Brazilian NGOs.
“The world has no time to waste on Holocaust deniers. [climate-change-denying] leaders.”
It was quite a difficult conference as it was: countries struggled for two weeks to concoct a deal which delayed a number of tough choices.
They pledged to create a fund to help poor countries affected by climate change, but no dollar amount has yet been specified.
Try to imagine a President Trump signing a budget bill, passed by a Republican-controlled Congress, that funds UN climate support for poor countries. It’s not a slam dunk, to put it mildly.
However, on some aspects of energy and climate policy, Trump’s pro-pipeline stance is actually closer to that of the Canadian government.
His declared support for the Keystone XL pipeline and his likely support in the Line 5 A dispute would likely be welcome in Ottawa, though it’s too early to tell whether it would affect either pipeline: the first project is currently dead and the second is in dispute.
Other countries are watching quietly too
The Canadian government will not comment on these possibilities.
He also won’t comment on a consequential implication of Trump’s candidacy, one spelled out in plain language. news leader from US broadcaster NPR announcing Trump’s race: He tried to overthrow an election and inspired a deadly riot to stay in power, and now he wants power again.
Canada has plenty of company at its discretion.
Other US allies told CBC News they are not saying a word about Trump’s candidacy. Spain won’t comment, Germany won’t say anything officially. Mexico made a comment – only to say that it is preserving its longstanding policy of not interfering in US politics.
A Canadian official, speaking in the background, said weighing in on the return of any politician, even this one, would be both inappropriate and ineffective.
Inappropriate because, according to the official, Canadians would not appreciate this kind of foreign commentary on our own policy; and ineffective, because it would do nothing but harm our country’s ability to deal with Republicans, federally and State level.
A recently retired Canadian diplomat is urging Ottawa to remain silent on the matter. While in some countries it may make sense to raise concerns about a political candidate, she said it doesn’t make sense to do so now in the United States.
Newly retired diplomat: “No” advantage in commenting on Trump
Louise Blais said she had been in weekly conferences with US-based Canadian diplomats and they never even discussed the idea of raising general concerns about Trump.
“It never, ever, ever came up in those conversations,” said Blais, who was stationed in Washington, the southeastern United States and New York at the UN.
“There’s a feeling that while it may seem good at the time and it may seem politically expedient at home, anything we say would have no chance of actually effecting change. It’s not a positive outcome anyway, and we just complicated our relationship?”
On top of that, she says, Americans don’t ask foreigners to speak. Neither Democrats nor Republicans, she said, look to other countries for involvement in American politics, unlike some countries where a political faction might plead for outside help.
Rather, she said, Canada should seek to develop its relationships across the American political spectrum: right, left, right, far left, federal and state.
She said hearing people’s thoughts, collecting their mobile numbers and maintaining a dialogue over time is the essential job of diplomats.
Blais was one of the first Canadian officials to connect with the original team around Trump in 2016, as a consul in the southern United States, where she met political advisers who later became administrative officials.
Towards the end of her diplomatic career, she created meetings with some southern US senators when Canada was pushing to change an electric vehicle tax credit.
So the plan in Ottawa is not to jeopardize the relationship.
In the past, events have upset these plans. In late 2015, Trudeau called Trump’s then-proposed Muslim ban a ignorantirresponsible and odious.
When Trump became the Republican nominee, Trudeau became more cautious. It is not the same as a former Canadian ambassador in Washington who clearly voiced a favorite in the 2000 US elections.
Some Republicans still felt Canadians were talking too much during the 2016 campaign: Ms. Blais recalled being told by a famous politician at the time that Ottawa had already undermined its relationship with the new president.
We’ll see if the silence holds. To torture an old adage, a two-year presidential campaign is an eternity in politics.