Kathleen Wynne vs. Donald Trump: has the Premier gone too far?
Wynne lambasted Donald Trump as a misogynist who would be dangerous for Canada, in a recent visit to the U.S. And her scathing criticisms went a lot further than that. Should the Premier of Ontario be commenting on the presidential race of another country? What was her motive in doing so? Farber, Capobianco and Parkin mull it over.
Yes, the Premier of Ontario went on a bit of a tear on Donald Trump recently.
Commenting on the internal political affairs of another country is always dodgy terrain for any political leader. But it can be a far more serious thing for a leader of a government, like Ms. Wynne.
And we need to make a further distinction - between policies and personalities.
Canadians leaders are often commenting on the policies of other countries. Our leaders make comments about the human rights standards in other countries, for example. Though that must be done selectively and tactfully, it is still done and I believe Canadians agree our political leaders have a role to speak up in favour or freedom and democracy - especially when we are doing it with people in countries that don't enjoy those privileges.
But generally it is a no-no to comment on personalities or the candidature of specific people. We foreigners don't endorse.
However, there is obviously a line there, too. I cannot recall when we have endorsed or condemned a candidate in a closely allied country, like the United States, as Ms. Wynne has done. But at the other end of the spectrum, our government has called for the ouster of specific political leaders from time to time - Syria's President al-Assad, for example.
So the point on these personal interventions is that we do them, but usually only in unusual times.
I must say, with Donald Trump's candidacy, we are in unusual and dangerous times. And I don't have a difficulty - in this case - with what Ms. Wynne has done.
I won't bore anyone by reciting the offensive things Mr. Trump has said. But I am worried that, more than being offensive, Mr. Trump may be a danger to the great, democratic republic to our south.
The impact on Canada and Canadians of a Trump presidency is also not a slight matter. It is absolutely against our national interests for Donald Trump to become the U.S. President. That is what Ms. Wynne said, and I agree.
I have been giving the whole Trump fiasco much thought over the last year. Never before in modern history can I recall a time when a bigoted, racist, misogynistic, ill-tempered homophobe has ever not simply run for the most powerful position in the world but has a potential opportunity to actually be voted in.
I know the Premier. I know her to be a levelheaded thinker who considers her words and actions with great care. I am of the view that this was not “one-off” ill-considered statement. The Premier knew exactly where she was and what impact her words would have. In my view she made her statement with careful deliberation.
And given the import of the times, the fact that a dangerous demagogue could quite possibly ascend to a position where he would have knowledge of the nuclear codes, well I think it behooves everyone, but especially those in positions like the Premier, to (as my late father use to say)…Open a Mouth!
I also find it fascinating when political leaders get involved in the politics of other jurisdictions, especially if it is another country completely. We have recently seen and heard our Premier musing loudly and publically about the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump. Premier Wynne denounced Donald Trump recently as divisive, a woman hater and blindly protectionist. The Premier went on to say that if Mr. Trump were to be elected he would be a dangerous president and dangerous for the world.
There are reports that say that the Premier’s comments are the harshest condemnation in decades by a senior Canadian politician of an American presidential candidate in the midst of an election.
Now, one can argue whether the Premier was right about her assessment of Mr. Trump – most, I am sure, would probably agree with the Premier. The issue is whether there was a need for the Premier of Ontario to say anything about a presidential candidate while the U.S. is in an election mode.
I am not sure any politician in Canada would want to have something negative said about them during an election. Furthermore, what happens if Mr. Trump becomes president and Premier Wynne needs to deal with him on a very sensitive issue? Given Mr. Trump’s penchant to attack his attackers, I bet it won’t go well. How about if he becomes president and decides to attack the Premier during the next provincial election?
That would be interesting.
On the question of her motives – I don’t have the evidence necessary to be sure. Nothing in the media reports I have read gives much indication.
It could be that Ms. Wynne, the unpopular Premier of Ontario, thought she could score some points back home amongst the great majority of Ontarians who loathe and fear Trump. That is certainly the uncharitable view.
Another view is that this was Ms. Wynne in an unguarded moment. Again there is no evidence either way - but I highly doubt that Ms. Wynne would go to an event at the Canadian Embassy and just blurt out comments like that.
Another charitable view, and the one that I hope is true, is that Ms. Wynne took a calculated risk that her comments might have some impact on Americans. In this view, Ms. Wynne would be the spear-carrier of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was recently in Washington but did not delve into U.S. politics. If there is a sin of intervention, it would certainly be greater for a Prime Minister of a country than a Premier of a province.
There is a final, more political, perhaps more cynical interpretation. The motivation for Ms. Wynne's intervention could have been to curry favour among U.S. Democrats. Present at her visit on the same day were some U.S. Secretaries and Elizabeth Warren, who is being touted as a possible Democratic VP candidate.
Pledging her fealty to the Democrats may pay off for Ms. Wynne in many ways - some of which might benefit Ontarians, but some of which could be strictly beneficial to her career or the Liberal party. As people involved in politics know, there are always international alignments and helping hands - through campaign staff, techniques, endorsements, introductions, etc.
But again, there is no evidence for any of these interpretations - it is all speculation. My hope is that she did this with our Prime Minister's foreknowledge and because almost anything that can be contributed toward Mr. Trumps defeat is worthy.
Actually, Tom’s view is not so far off. However, I would not look at the Premier’s words in any uncharitable way; on the contrary what you see is what you get. Premier Wynne is a trailblazer, a woman of moxie and courage. She saw an opportunity to make an impact and took it. It was taken thoughtfully but with the knowledge that it would have meaning. Good on her.
However, on Tom’s other speculations, I think he is way off base. It is almost Machiavellian to believe that the Premier had some grand plan to advance her career on the back of the racist Trump. I am glad that Tom hedged his bets but even the most die-hard Wynne-hater would not ascribe such motives to her in this case; at least I would hope not.
Seriously folks, can there be anyone out there, other than the bigots and red necks that embrace Trump, who feel that the Premier was wrong? I believe in the heart of my hearts that we are approaching a very dangerous time. The stark choice in the American election is painful. The idea of a Trump presidency is so unthinkable, yet potentially achievable.
Every one of us, but especially those in positions of respect and authority must stand up and be counted. Ms. Wynne was amongst the first outside the United States to do so. Let us hope she is not the last.
I do give credit to the Premier for voicing her concerns - after all Mr. Trump has been highly controversial and there are many Americans who have voiced their disapproval of his candidacy, not to mention others around the world.
However, I don’t hear political leaders weighing in to the tune our Premier has. But then again this Premier played a hugely active role in the last federal election – so much so it became newsworthy.
Premier Wynne defends her comments and her decision to wade into the bitter and divided U.S. campaign with the reason that what happens in the U.S. affects everyone around the world, Canada included. Well OK, but does that mean she will get involved with every election around the world if, in her opinion, a certain candidate will be bad for Canada?
And notwithstanding that we are talking about Mr. Trump, it is the Premier’s opinion of a particular leader and not necessarily that of all her constituents.
I guess you can say it was political in that the Premier is hoping the Progressive Conservatives will somehow act to respond in defense of Mr. Trump and thereby create a news story, but I am relatively certain that won’t happen.
Not sure that was the reason, but whatever her thinking is, my only concern is that if he wins and is president, will the Premier’s comments come back and have a negative effect on our province?
That is a serious issue.
Richard Mahoney is a lawyer with deep experience in politics and governance. He is a former senior advisor to the Rt. Hon Paul Martin, a former Campaign Chair and President of the Ontario Liberal Party. John Capobianco is a Senior Partner and National Public Affairs Lead at FleishmanHillard. He has been a Conservative strategist with over 30 years of political activism at all three levels, including as a former federal Conservative candidate. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist and a frequent commentator on national issues.