Why are there no large anti-Trump protests in Quebec? | News | DW | 09.06.2018
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Why are there no large anti-Trump protests in Quebec?

Donald Trump is not very popular in Canada nor in the country's French-speaking province Quebec. So with the US president there for the G7 meeting, why were there no large protests against him?

A poll released by the Angus Reid Institute shortly before the G7 summit found that almost three-quarters of Canadians view Donald Trump as arrogant, 62 percent consider him a liar and 61 percent a bully.

The low esteem Canadians hold for the US president does not surprise Quebec native Louis Belanger, who directs the advanced international studies program at Laval University in Quebec City. In Quebec, Trump's only stop during his first, brief visit for the G7 meeting, the president's popularity is certainly not better and due to the province's traditional political leanings might be even be worse, Belanger said.

"Generally speaking the population of Quebec is on the left side of the political spectrum. So basically the Trump message doesn't resonate a lot here."

Read moreDonald Trump divides G7 over trade and threats to international order

Response to Quebec City attack

Trump drew the ire of many Quebecois last year after an attack on a Quebec City mosque that left six Muslims dead, said Belanger. The attack was carried out by a Canadian-born student at Laval University who spoke admiringly of Trump and far-right French leader Marine Le Pen.

Trump, an avid Twitter user, remained unusually silent after the attack before calling Canada's prime minister the next day. But then, said Belanger, the Trump administration used the incident to justify its controversial travel ban.

"The reaction from the White House was as if it was a Muslim-motivated incident," he said. "At the time people were extremely angry how the White House tried to exploit this attack."

Professor Louis Belanger

Professor Louis Belanger says Trump's 'America first' message could be met with hostility in left-leaning Quebec

A more recent point of contention for the citizens of Quebec is Trump's decision to impose steel and aluminium tariffs — purportedly for national security reasons — on neighboring Canada, which, like the US, is a NATO member.

Belanger said people are right to be angry about the move, since aluminium is an essential part of Quebec's economy. Nine out of ten Canadian production sites are located in the province.

That's why Benoit Martin, who runs a third generation family's roofing and metal work business hopes that Trump and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will reach a deal in the coming weeks that will end the tariffs before their impact fully kicks in.

Benoit Martin

Benoit Martin is hoping Trump can work out a deal to cancel tariffs with Trudeau

Compromise needed

"If they don't find a compromise the aluminium prices will increase greatly," he said from his office in an industrial park on the outskirts of Quebec City. "We would then have to raise our prices as well."

That's because, explained Martin, the aluminium is produced in Canada, then shipped across the border to the US where it is transformed and processed before it is reshipped to Canada. The transfer from Canada to the US is now subject to the tariffs. The punitive measures also apply to steel, but since most Canadian-produced steel remains in Canada, it is much less of a problem, said Martin, who employs 50 people.

While he opposes the tariffs, he is not too concerned about them, he added, because aluminum makes up only a quarter of his business, the majority is steel.

What's more, added Martin, it is only a question of time when a compromise on the tariffs will be reached with Trump. "You can't have too many enemies," he explained, citing Trump's trade feuds with China, the EU, Canada and Mexico. "I think it's a bluff. He cannot do this for a long time."

Martin on his factory floor

Martin on his factory floor. He says tariffs will cause a spike in aluminum prices

Yet the small business owner's view of Trump is not purely negative. Martin gave Trump credit for reducing US taxes and boosting the American economy. But a US president simply cannot only focus on his own country, noted Martin, he has to have a global perspective. "He has to think about free trade, not protectionism."

Figuring out Trump

Given that most Quebecois have long had a negative view of Trump, why aren't there any large scale protests against him, especially on his first visit to Canada just days after he slapped tariffs on the country?

"That's a good question and an interesting observation and it may be that people in the anti-globalization and anti-capitalism movement have not quite figured what to do with Trump," Belanger said. "If you are against WTO, guess what, Trump is in your camp. We are living in an interesting time where there are some points of convergence between the extreme left and the extreme right."

While Belanger does not think that the absence of anti-Trump protests here in Quebec is specific to this province, he noted that there are segments of the population that lean further to the right of the political spectrum, especially in the Quebec City area. "A little bit more conservative and anti-establishment," than in Montreal and in the rest of the province, he said.

The existence of several popular American-style right-wing talk radio hosts in Quebec City is further evidence of the provincial capital's unique political tilt, according to Belanger, who also believes that the remote location of the actual summit in Charlevoix had kept away many would-be protesters.

Bookshop in Quebec City's trendy Saint Jean Baptiste neighborhood

A leftist bookshop in Quebec City's trendy Saint Jean Baptiste neighborhood. The city skews slightly more conservative than the rest of the province.

Just for show?

David Mordret, who has owned a leftist book shop in Quebec City's formerly edgy, now hip, Saint Jean Baptiste neighborhood for eleven years, also points to the right-wing talk show hosts, who spread what he calls disinformation and fearmongering a la Trump as one reason that many people are reluctant to take to the streets — be it against Trump or the G7.

He also said that the close monitoring of social media by law enforcement and the heavy security presence have scared away or made it very difficult for protesters to organize in the first place. While Mordret is certainly no fan of Trump, he thinks that the difference between Trump and the other six leaders attending the G7 is mostly in style. "All of them are crooks," he said, noting that he regards Trump's anti-globalist sentiment as mostly for show.

Belanger however, is not convinced.

"The extreme left that usually is demonstrating in such a case, they have not figured out what to do with Trump. Maybe it's that."

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