Donnie and the Jets

This column is appearing online and in print just as we leave the Canada Day long weekend behind, and just as our neighbours to the south erupt in their annual Stars and Stripes jamboree.

So, as I write about the developments that seemed to define us this year as a nation, I’m finding it a little bizarre – but simultaneously, strangely fitting – that a major part of Canada’s identity, both this year and in general, could be rooted in its reaction to a most unusual American outburst.

Yeah, I know, I’d rather not use Donald Trump as any kind of yardstick for anything Canadian (even though he apparently likes our national anthem). But think about his recent barrage of criticism for Justin Trudeau and try to remember the last time a Canadian Prime Minister was so frequently in the crosshairs of any White House resident, at any point of our history.

Well, yes, there was that little matter of Trudeau’s dad being called a synonym for “sphincter” by Richard Nixon in the early 1970s. To his credit, Pierre Trudeau gave as good as he got, suggesting that he had “been called worse things by better people.”

By contrast, however, Trump’s self-love borders on the sociopathic, with no filter between his brain, his mouth, and his Twitter thumbs. So you can imagine his reaction to a world leader who dares to show up and suggest he and his government have it all wrong.

Wait, strike that. You don’t have to imagine it, because it’s been playing out on our nightly newscasts and social media feeds for the past month. It started in the aftermath of the G7 summit in Quebec City, and continued last week as Trump railed against the PM (“Justin, what’s your problem, Justin?”) for retaliatory tariffs Canada placed on several goods going stateside in the wake of U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum heading north.

As a nation of 151 years, we’re still a little insecure, so when we find ourselves the unexpected recipient of sustained attention, especially from the United States, we tend to get worked up about it, whether it happens to be faint praise or outright condemnation.

This is a new one, though. And it brought a new, quite unexpected reaction: Elected officials and party supporters of all political stripes, rallying around Trudeau. Even Ontario premier-elect Doug Ford, condemned by many as Canada’s answer to Trump, insisted that he stands “shoulder to shoulder with our Prime Minister and our federal counterparts.”

The same people that were condemning Trudeau in the first half of 2018 for, among other things, his ill-fated trip to India, the Liberals’ carbon tax strategy, and the recent federal purchase of the Kinder Morgan pipeline project were suddenly in his corner.

I doubt it will last much longer, nor should it – we do political discourse in this country a disservice when the best description we can give any elected official is “not Donald” or, conversely, “Trump-like.” It’s far more complicated than that, and that’s always been the case.

But the rallying cry against U.S. tariffs and the president’s blather – including his laughable description of Canada as a security threat to the United States (unlike those softies in North Korea) – may have come at just the right time, as we remind ourselves who we are as a nation and what we’re prepared to tolerate.

On a much lighter note, a different rallying cry of sorts emerged in this spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs as the surprising Winnipeg Jets gave Manitoba hockey fans a post-season run like no other. The Western Conference Final opened in Winnipeg for the first time in NHL history, spanning two separate franchises (the original Jets, now the Arizona Coyotes, and the former Atlanta Thrashers, who relocated to Winnipeg in 2011).

Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights extinguished that third-round series in a surprising five games, dashing the hopes of Canadian hockey fans hoping to see the Stanley Cup presented to one of our homegrown franchises for the first time in a quarter-century. But it was delightful to see a small-market Canadian team standing up against the well-heeled U.S. teams, and to see fans of other Canadian franchises (even the Leafs, who aren’t known for this sort of thing) getting on the Jets bandwagon.

Coming just a couple of months after the Humboldt Broncos tragedy that galvanized people across the country, it was downright heartwarming to see another Prairie town give us a reason to slip on our jerseys and share our Canadian pride.

If nothing else, at least we forgot about President What’s-His-Name while the games were on. Here’s hoping that trend continues next year, with all seven of our Canadian NHL clubs.