UPDATE: Following his trip to Peru, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will stop in Canada for a meeting on Sunday with the premiers of B.C. and Alberta, before departing for Europe.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not even left the country for his latest international trip — a three-country, nine-day tour which begins Thursday — and he is already under fire for this travel.
As he jets towards his first stop in Lima, Peru, Trudeau leaves behind Alberta and Saskatchewan all but at war with British Columbia over the Kinder Morgan pipeline while the clock ticks towards a May 31 deadline set by Kinder Morgan to cancel the multi-billion project.
“For him to leave in the middle of an emergency like this, I think shows — at least to critics of Trudeau — that he’s not taking this seriously,” said Duane Bratt, the chair of the political science department at Mount Royal University in Calgary.
Ironically, his first event in Lima, on Friday morning, is to address a group of CEOs and international business leaders where he will lay out the case that Canada is a great place for new business investment.
“This is a crisis which requires the prime minister,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters on Parliament Hill Wednesday. “The mess is created by the prime minister. The prime minister absolutely has a responsibility to be here.”
WATCH: Jagmeet Singh says Alberta-B.C. battle over Kinder Morgan caused by Liberals
In an interview from his riding office in Thornhill, Ont., Conservative MP Peter Kent agreed.
“The prime minister should stay at home and deal with this Kinder Morgan crisis and demonstrate a little leadership.”
Cameron Ahmad, the prime minister’s deputy director of communications, defended the travel, arguing that the trip provides valuable opportunities to advance Canada’s interests abroad and seek new opportunities for Canadian businesses.
The current tour is Trudeau’s first international travel since he took his family to India in February, a trip widely panned by Canadian and international observers for featuring too many changes of clothing, not enough business, and one unwanted guest in the form of Jaspal Atwal, the Surrey, B.C. man once convicted of trying to murder an Indian politician.
“The Indian trip was a disaster because the expectations were … around trade and investment. That’s what that trip was supposed to be about. Instead, Indian-Canadian relations are at their worst levels since the 1970s. That is not good,” said Bratt.
This trip should be more buttoned-down, an all-business summit of heads of government from the Americas in Lima followed by a visit to Paris where Trudeau will become the first Canadian prime minister to speak to the French national assembly and, finally, a stop in London to participate in the bi-annual Commonwealth summit.
And to some international observers, Trudeau continues to have strong international cachet that, used properly, could help advance Canadian interests abroad.
“I don’t think his shine has worn off,” said Susan Schadler, a Boston-based senior fellow with the Waterloo, Ont., think tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation. “You’ve got this modern prime minister who is a breath of fresh air in the current environment when we have a lot of horrible reactionaries around so I don’t think interest in him has worn off, not at all.
A week ago, it looked as if the summit in Peru might be a key moment in the ongoing NAFTA negotiations. Trudeau, U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto were all expected to attend and some had speculated that the three leaders might announce a NAFTA deal-in-principle.
The NAFTA negotiations, though, are not advanced enough for that to happen and, in any event, this week, Trump cancelled his visit to Lima — he’ll dispatch vice-president Mike Pence — in order to deal with latest bombings in Syria.
Without Trump, the Lima summit might have seemed less of a “must-attend” for the Canadian prime minister, particularly given events at home.
“I would argue that the Kinder Morgan issue is a bigger story, a bigger challenge in Canada than Syria is in the United States,” Bratt said.
Even though Trump will not attend, Trudeau is expected to meet with Mexico’s Nieto.
Next week, Trudeau will head to Europe where nationalist politicians in Hungary, Poland, Austria and elsewhere are seeking to build literal and metaphoric walls. Trudeau will have a rare platform for a Canadian politician — a speech in France’s Assemblée nationale — to speak about the value of liberal democracies and a global multilateral approach to solving problems like climate change.
“If you’re somebody like Trudeau, you could potentially be thinking, is there anything a country like Canada and a person like Trudeau could do to lend support to Europe finding its way,” said Schadler, who had a long career in Europe working as an economist for the International Monetary Fund.
“I think Europe is fundamentally in a lot of trouble right now. And that’s bad, certainly, for the North Atlantic partnership — the U.S., Canada and Europe.”