And The Big Loser In DairyGate Is? Not Who You Think It Is
Hey, don’t have a cow. Have a dairy industry instead.
There were many predictions in the aftermath of the Donald Trump/ Justin Trudeau insult fest after the disastrous G7 meeting in Quebec last week.
Some predicted that, this time, Trump had finally— finally!— gone too far in calling the Canadian prime minister a whiny baby for Trudeau’s comments following Trump’s early departure from the summit. The fiery denunciation of Canada, they said, was like a declaration of cold war on America’s closest ally.
The added barbs from Trump’s staff about stabs-in-the-back and a special place in hell for traitors were simply more indication that Trump’s aggressive style had run its course. Of course that was all blown away by the North Korea summit results.
Then there was Trudeau himself. His petulant sulk after the summit about Trump’s late arrival/ early exit and huffiness at Trump upstaging his gender harangue played into all the stereotypes about him. While he initially received plaudits for his stand, the glitter faded when details of his wait-till-Trump-is-on-the-plane performance emerged.
Still, Canada rallied to his defiance.Then there was Larry Kudlow’s heart attack, Trudeau’s mystery eyebrow and Kim Jung Un waiting to cut a deal with Trump on the other side of the world. The list of potential losers was long.
But who thought the biggest loser might be— wait for it— Canadian Conservative leader Andrew Scheer?
Let’s back up a few steps to clear up a few points. It’s now clear that Trump felt he was doing Trudeau a favour in coming to the G7 when he had the North Korea summit waiting on the other side of the world. But his belated arrival and early exit still nettled Trudeau, who you may’ve noticed likes the limelight almost as much as does Trump.
Sensing this, Trump also apparently threw Trudeau another bone on the NAFTA front in Quebec, offering a concession on sunset clauses. Again Trudeau was less than mollified. When Trump arrived late to Trudeau’s vanity presentation on intersectionality, the die was cast. Trudeau waited till his American counterpart was on the plane headed to Singapore to play his passive/ aggressive hurt self.
Having convinced himself that he’d patched things up with Trudeau about the steel/ aluminum tariff, Trump was furious at the don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out pity fest from his younger rival. The comments about bullying were provocative as he went to meet Kim Jong Un. In Trumpian fashion he employed his own searing Tweet technique and dispatched a few subordinates to rough up Trudeau as well.
At the heart of the dispute was Canada’s supply management system for dairy— a notorious symbol of political patronage in Quebec. Whether Trump knew this when he singled it out as a grievance in the NAFTA talks, he was taking aim at the weak underbelly of Trudeau and his Liberal party.
Having lost considerable support in B.C. over his handling of the Trans Mountain pipeline mess, Trudeau can ill afford to weaken his Quebec seat count by making concessions to Trump on dairy. So the Liberal leader has been firm on no concessions to hurt the powerful lobby in the province.
How powerful? This is where we get to Scheer. The Tory leader won the leadership in a controversial nomination process when the dairy folks in Quebec deep-sixed fellow Quebecois Maxime Bernier. Bernier had made ending supply-side management a principal campaign promise— and earned a charge as a vendu in his home province. How could Canada profess to be a free trader, asked Bernier, with such a consumer-unfriendly system in place on a number of products?
But a late rush in memberships from Quebec— allegedly funded by the dairy industry— sank him and gave Scheer, who wasn’t objecting to supply-side management, the win on the thirteenth ballot. As part of keeping Bernier and his supporters happy, Scheer offered him a shadow cabinet post— provided Bernier not publicly criticize the Conservatives docile stance on dairy.
This pact held till Scheer supported Trudeau’s pushback against Trump on the issue. Boosting Trudeau to play politics in Quebec was it for Bernier, who released a book excerpt detailing his objections to the policy. Scheer then effectively fired Bernier from caucus for insubordinaton.
Mistake. While Trudeau still had the backing of the Liberal base and Trump had his fanatical base squarely in his camp, Scheer is not so comfortable wearing the Conservatives crown. There remains a large segment of the party who agree with Bernier on the issue and see Scheer’s support of Trudeau as appeasement to the Ottawa political and policy clique.
By dabbling in dairy, Scheer has put his credibility as a “true blue conservative” on the line— and with it, his leadership heading into the 2019 federal election. Where Trudeau’s polling was soft as butter in the wake of the Ontario Liberals’ implosion, the defiant stand against Trump and the Conservatives split might just be enough to repair the fractures in his support.
So while NAFTA will likely get done and Trump/ Trudeau keep their hold on power, Andrew Scheer may be the biggest casualty of the cheese curdling. Talk about sour milk.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on his website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand will be available this fall.