Biden’s poor debate performance renews questions about Trump, Trudeau and Canada’s future

A second Trump presidency could be a boon for Trudeau’s political fortunes: observers

U.S. President Joe Biden’s uneven — and at times incoherent — debate performance Thursday reportedly has triggered panic in Democratic circles as it could result in an insurmountable lead for Donald Trump and a Republican victory in November’s vote.

It also has observers on this side of the border wondering what a second Trump presidency could mean for Canada and how political leaders here will handle the sometimes volatile former president if he wins again.

Polls suggest Trump was already leading Biden before Thursday’s debate in the six battleground states that are expected to decide the presidential election — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Some voters have simply shrugged off Trump’s criminal conviction and his association with the Jan. 6 siege on Capitol Hill.

This combination of photos shows Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden during a presidential debate hosted by CNN, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta.
This combination of photos shows Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden during a presidential debate hosted by CNN, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press)

Like the Toronto-St. Paul’s voters who backed a Conservative in the long-time Liberal stronghold due to frustration with the current state of affairs, some Americans have turned away from Biden as the country grapples with inflation and surging home prices.

The ongoing influx of migrants at the southern border has also been a sore spot for some U.S. voters.

Biden’s debate performance Thursday did nothing to silence critics who maintain he’s too old and infirm to lead the most powerful country on Earth.

A second Trump presidency could be very consequential for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his own political future.

Trudeau has presented himself as a defender of the rules-based international order — a sort of foil to the isolationist “America First” Trump and his disdain for multilateral institutions like NATO.

In a 2016 speech before Parliament, former U.S. president Barack Obama famously praised Trudeau as the leader to carry the torch of liberalism at a time when anti-democratic forces were supposedly on the march.

There’s some hope in pro-Trudeau circles that a chaotic Trump presidency could make Canadians sour on Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre. The Liberals have repeatedly tried to brand Poilievre as Trump-like figure because of his embrace of populist politics.

Some Liberals think that if Canadians recoil at a second Trump victory, they could choose Trudeau in the 2025 general election as a steady hand on the tiller during a period of uncertainty

Dan Arnold, a former staffer in the Prime Minister’s Office who led the Trudeau Liberals’ research program during their 2015, 2019, and 2021 election victories, said a second Trump presidency could consume news headlines and reverse Canadians’ current appetite for change.

“I think you could make the argument that, if the world is moving in a direction that is very scary, that is very populist, that is very right-wing, we don’t want Canada to move in that same direction,” he said in an interview.

“And maybe you need a bit of a counterweight in Canada to what’s going on in the U.S. So I think that’s something that, you know, potentially, that could be something Canadians think about if Trump gets elected.”

But Arnold said a Trump presidency could be a double-edged sword.

“There’s also a threat there, too. Maybe people will think, ‘Hey, Poilievre and Trump will get along a lot better than Trudeau and Trump.’ Trump doesn’t seem to like Trudeau very much so maybe it’s not so good for the Liberals,” he said.

In fact, a new poll released Friday by Abacus Data suggests Canadians think Poilievre would be better than Trudeau at handling a second Trump presidency.

Roughly 44 per cent of Canadians surveyed by Abacus said they believe Poilievre would be better placed to deal with Trump, while 30 per cent chose Trudeau.

“Perhaps most concerning in this poll is how Poilievre performs against Trudeau on the key policy areas. He’s well ahead on the cost of living, housing and managing the economy. He also has a 14-point lead when it comes to who best Canadians think can deal with another possible President Trump,” said Abacus Data CEO David Coletto in a media statement.

In an interview with CBC News, Coletto said it will be difficult for Trudeau to recover from the Liberals’ stinging defeat in the Toronto-St. Paul’s byelection — a seat the party has held for more than 30 years.

The desire for change is strong and Canadians have turned against Trudeau, he said.

But he also said “external events” could “force voters to, you know, evaluate Trudeau differently.”

“I think the pandemic, for example, did that with a lot of political leaders. It was a crisis that forced us to look at our leaders in different ways. And maybe Trump’s election is that,” he said.

“I think Liberals are hoping that might be — which is a weird thing to say — they’re hoping for Trump. I don’t think they want Trump to win. But politically, it might be the only kind of thing that does it.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, extends his hand to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on Feb. 13, 2017, in Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Donald Trump, right, extends his hand to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on Feb. 13, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Trump and Trudeau have had a fractious relationship.

While Trudeau and his government successfully renegotiated NAFTA and saved Canada’s most important trade agreement from ruin, it was a battle to get signatures on the dotted line.

Trump called Trudeau “two-faced” after the prime minister was heard on a hot mic mocking Trump’s long-winded press conference following a NATO meeting.

After Trudeau said Canada would not be pushed around by Trump and would vigorously defend the country’s interests in the face of U.S. tariffs, Trump blasted the prime minister on social media, calling him “very dishonest & weak,” and torpedoed the leaders’ communique after the G7 meeting in Charlevoix, Que.

John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, relayed in his book how Trump didn’t like Trudeau and told his aides to attack the prime minister on the U.S. Sunday morning political shows.

Later, after losing the presidency, Trump aligned himself with the anti-mandate protesters who staged the trucker convoy that shut down much of downtown Ottawa.

“The Freedom Convoy is peacefully protesting the harsh policies of far left lunatic Justin Trudeau who has destroyed Canada with insane Covid mandates,” Trump said.

Trudeau, while more diplomatic in his criticisms of Trump, has indicated he’s no fan of the former president.

Speaking to reporters in January, Trudeau said Trump “represents a certain amount of unpredictability.”

Facing the possibility of a second Trump presidency, Trudeau has said International Trade Minister Mary Ng and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne will collaborate with industry groups and civil society organizations to draw up a plan on cross-border relations.

A Trump presidency threatens co-ordinated North American climate action and the federal government’s industrial policy of heavily subsidizing electric vehicle (EV) assembly — a policy that essentially mimics Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act.

The strongly pro-oil-and-gas Trump could try to revive the Keystone XL pipeline, or something like it — a potentially positive development for Alberta and Canada’s natural resource exports but a setback for environmentalists on both sides of the border.

Trump’s aversion to free trade and full-throated embrace of Buy American policies — policies Biden himself has also supported — are also a source of concern for Canada.

“Canada-U.S. relations are fundamental for the prosperity, well-being of Canadians. We know this is an important election year for the U.S.,” Trudeau said at his most recent cabinet retreat.

“We know there’s always challenges whenever there’s an American election.”