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[Politics] Why Canada won't say a word about Trump's return to politics


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The Canadian government has an unequivocal position on what it intends to say regarding the just-announced political comeback of Donald Trump: nothing.

Two years after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blamed the then-U.S. president for inciting a riot in an effort to cling to power, the Canadian government intends to keep mum.

Conversations with Canadian officials in recent days made clear they have no intention of voicing any revulsion they might be feeling in light of the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

But already, the mere idea of Trump returning to power is being discussed discreetly among participants within international institutions.

Two of those institutions happened to be meeting last week when Trump announced another presidential run: NATO and the COP27 climate conference.

Trump's announcement coincided with an emergency gathering of NATO leaders after a missile landed in Poland, and with UN climate talks unfolding in Egypt.

The potential implications for both of those institutions is obvious. Trump tried withdrawing from the UN climate pact. And he threatened to leave NATO or severely undermine it, while different former aides said they feared that, in a second term, he might really withdraw.

Canada's representative to NATO during the Trump years declined to describe what talks were like at the time because, she said, the confidentiality of conversations is a sacrosanct principle among military allies.

But when asked to assess the potential effect of a Trump comeback, Kerry Buck was blunt.

"It can do a lot of damage," Buck, now retired from government, told CBC News. "In Ukraine, specifically, and everywhere else."

Watching nervously in Europe
Buck said certain planks of NATO's just-adopted strategic document would be called into question if Trump returned to office, like the value of alliances in dealing with China and climate change being viewed as a security threat.

To be clear, there is no NATO worth speaking of without the United States; the Americans account for almost 70 per cent of the alliance's total defence spending.

But NATO insiders' immediate concern isn't Trump pulling out; it's that he might severely weaken it, by calling into doubt its collective-defence clause.

The former president has been a topic of consternation lately in Brussels, where NATO is headquartered. One NATO-watcher there said Europeans  nervously eyed the recent U.S. midterm elections for signs of a Trump MAGA resurgence.

Republican support for funding and arming Ukraine has been softening and the idea of the U.S. Congress cutting off that assistance would have untold ramifications.

But Chris Skaluba said there was relief in Brussels over the outcome of the midterms, and hope that the poor showing of Trump-style nationalists has strengthened the pro-NATO faction in Washington.

Now, he said, people in Europe are eyeing the 2024 U.S. election.

Skaluba said there are still many wild cards and unknowns about how the world might look on Jan. 20, 2025, the date of the next U.S. presidential inauguration.

"It's hard to predict, given so much will have changed," said Skaluba, a NATO analyst at the Atlantic Council think-tank, who previously spent over a decade in the U.S. government, at the Pentagon and in other security-related roles and as a liaison to NATO.

"What is the state of the Ukraine conflict? Is Putin still hanging on to power? … Has European and Canadian defence spending continued to rise? Will NATO have carved out an important role in countering China?"

He said all these things would matter to the precise implications of a second Trump presidency. In general, Skaluba would expect the type of turbulence we saw between Trump and allies from 2016 and 2020. But he added two caveats.

One, he said, is that the stakes are far higher in Eastern Europe than they were in 2016. Skaluba also said Trump is more experienced now in using the levers of power to get what he wants.

Consternation at climate conference
At the climate conference in Egypt last week, one participant shuddered at the thought of another Trump presidency. 

"That would be disastrous," said Stela Herschmann, an environmental lawyer with Observatorio do Clima, a network of Brazilian NGOs.


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