Having been forced to turn tail and retreat on issues both foreign and domestic, U.S. President Donald Trump has turned his attention to who he sees as the weakest kid in the sandbox.
When the Mexican government said it would not, in fact, pay for his wall, Trump threatened to shut down the U.S. government if Congress didn’t fork over the funds. When Congress didn’t blink, Trump let the issue drop. After months of promising to label China a currency manipulator and put an end to the U.S. trade deficit, a face-to-face meeting ended with the U.S. president heaping praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom Trump called a great leader.
Now Trump is looking for a fight he can win, and he has identified Canada as the place to find it. Last week it was announced that the U.S. Commerce Department would slap duties averaging 20 per cent on Canadian lumber exports. While politeness has become a Canadian hallmark, and a full-scale trade war is in no one’s interest, Ottawa needs to make it clear that Canada has no intention of being a pushover to provide the U.S. with a political victory.
To appease his base, Trump needs to have a villain. As former president Lyndon Johnson once said, if you can convince a supporter he’s better than someone else, he won’t notice you picking his pocket. “Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Canada shouldn’t play into the president’s hands. But like all bullies, Trump must be shown that attacks on Canada will come with a price. The U.S. lumber industry is the only one to benefit from duties on Canadian softwood, with American consumers and the construction industry actually being hurt financially by the move.
The Canadian government must work to make sure that message reaches the American people while taking action to exact a toll on the U.S. administration. One way to do that would be to follow the suggestion of B.C. Premier Christy Clark for a ban on U.S. thermal coal shipments through B.C. ports, a move first suggested by Green Party leader Andrew Weaver three years ago.