TORONTO – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to weigh in Monday on some of the nastier policies pushed by U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump, but he did suggest some questions Americans might want to be asking themselves.
Pressed to discuss Trump’s views, Trudeau said it was not his place to take on the brash billionaire-turned-politician who has advocated torturing terrorists, barring Muslims from the U.S. and deporting millions of illegal Mexicans and their families.
“If I were an American, I’d be asking questions right now about why is it that so many people are angry at your politics,” Trudeau said.
“Why is it that so many people are so disenfranchised with your democracy that they seem to be acting out or lashing out?”
Trudeau, speaking during a townhall-style meeting with the Huffington Post in Toronto, said he was watching the presidential race closely to see how Americans deal with what he called a “very real set of issues around frustration toward the body politic.”
The Liberal PM invoked the populist approach taken by former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, whose anti-elitist rhetoric resonated with many people even as he buckled under the weight of a crack-cocaine scandal and derision from those opposed to his public vulgarity.
“There were a lot of people who didn’t get it,” Trudeau said of Ford. “But he tapped into a very real and legitimate sense that people had around who politicians were.”
In fact, Trudeau said, he himself tapped into that same unhappiness during his own election campaign last fall, but in what he described as a more positive way.
Ultimately, he said, he was “touched” anyone might think he has any sway with Trump supporters but he would have to work with whoever becomes the next president.
“I’m not going to pick a fight with Donald Trump right now,” he said. “I’m not going to support him either, obviously.”
Trudeau, who is headed to the White House for a gala state dinner Thursday hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama, also said Americans should take a look at the role of campaign financing in politics after the November election.
Presidential candidates raise billions in financing and court special interests, something the PM said Canada no longer allows. In recent years, he said, Canada has barred corporate and union donations, and capped individual contributions to political parties.
“That changes the entire structure around politics and the obligations of fundraising for incumbents and the power of special interests and lobbyists,” Trudeau said.
“When the dust settles after November, however it settles, a conversation about the role of campaign financing in establishing a successful democracy is, I think, going to be merited.”
Trudeau said he had faith in Americans and their approach to their politics.
“I prefer to trust that my American friends will exercise their democratic rights with the wisdom of crowds that always ends up coming through in a democracy,” Trudeau said.
“My job as prime minister is going to be to work with whoever gets elected.”
In Ottawa, Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement said he thinks he knows how this week’s Washington visit is going to go: Trudeau and Obama will announce a bilateral strategy that will never see the light of day in the U.S.
“The problem is President Obama cannot deliver on that strategy. He’s eight months away from retirement. He cannot get things through Congress. They will not co-operate with him,” Clement said.
“So for Justin Trudeau to wave a piece of paper in his hand and say to the Canadian population, ‘I have a strategy that will be implemented with the United States,’ is pure fiction. But that’s the fiction he’s going to try to peddle. Mark my words.”
— With files from Mike Blanchfield and Bruce Cheadle in Ottawa