The reality of a Donald Trump presidency is sinking in fast for those who hope to be the next Prime Minister of Canada.
The Delta Bessborough in Saskatoon was buzzing Wednesday afternoon as 11 candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada gathered for a luncheon prior to their first debate.
Candidates were asked for their thoughts on the results south of the border.
Most responded by saying Trump’s win was the result of economic anger, which could be mirrored in Canada in the next federal election.
“Donald Trump was able to tap that frustration of people who were shut out of the American economy,” said Erin O’Toole, who served as veteran affairs minister in the latter days of Stephen Harper’s government. “I want to make sure Justin Trudeau’s government… doesn’t shut Canadians out like we’ve seen in the U.S.”
Kellie Leitch sent an email to supporters early Wednesday saying Trump’s victory was “an exciting message,” that needs to be “delivered in Canada as well.”
She expanded on her comments at the Bessborough, saying “elites and the media” have been disconnected from the people.
Leitch added that due to her position on immigrant screening, she’ll be able to have a working relationship with Trump.
“We have some common interests,” she said. “I know he’ll respect me.”
The Simcoe-Grey MP did note she had some concerns regarding Trump’s comments on women and those with disabilities, but said she need to put her “personal opinions” aside like any Canadian leader.
WILL NAFTA BE DEFUNCT?
A common cause for concern among the Conservative hopefuls was Trump’s campaign pledge to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“I think that is a very big threat to Canada,” said Deepak Obhrai. “We are a trading nation, NAFTA has been very good. [This goes] to say he does not understand the value of NAFTA.”
Obhrai, who served as a parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, said it would be crucial to maintain a good relationship with Congress in order to further Canada’s trade goals.
Quebec MP Maxime Bernier sees the potential renegotiation of NAFTA as an opportunity for Canada.
He wants to eliminate supply management that would allow more competitiveness in the dairy and poultry markets, which he says would lower prices for consumers.
“It won’t be an irritant for Canada-US trade relations if we do that,” he said.
O’Toole, Leitch, Obhrai and Bernier will join Chris Alexander, Lisa Raitt, Andrew Scheer, Brad Trost, Andrew Saxton and Daniel Lindsay in the first CPC leader debate Wednesday evening.
The debate kicks off a process that will choose a successor for Stephen Harper, who stepped down after losing the 2015 election to Justin Trudeau.
Scheer emphasized the need to focus on a positive campaign, something the Conservatives failed to do last fall.
“That’s what I think voters were missing from us,” he said. “If we do (focus on the positive), we can win in 2019.”
He refused to weigh in on the immigration positions Leitch said she shared with Trump, saying he was focused on the strengths of his own campaign.
The new leader of the CPC will be chosen at a convention in May 2017.
Wednesday’s debate will start at 7 p.m. CST at the Delta Bessborough.