OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau’s new parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs justified the Liberals’ tepid response to the U.S. president’s refugee ban Tuesday by noting that Donald Trump has issued fewer executive orders in his first week than did former president Barack Obama.
Andrew Leslie, an Ottawa-area MP and retired Army general, also suggested Canada needs to look after its own interests.
Andrew Leslie speaks to reporters in the House of Commons foyer on June 10, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
Leslie was asked by reporters if he agreed with Trump’s move to bar Syrian refugees indefinitely from the U.S., place a four-month freeze on accepting other refugees, and bring in a three-month suspension on travel from citizens from seven predominant Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East.
“That’s up to the United States to — to actually decide for themselves,” Leslie responded. “It’s within the legal remit of the president to issue executive orders.
“As you may know, now that I’m getting much better briefed on the issue, president Obama issued actually more presidential executive orders and memoranda in his first week than President Trump.”
Obama issued five executive orders in his first week after taking office in 2009. He ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, outlawed the use of torture as an interrogation measure, and banned gift from lobbyists.
Trump also signed five executive orders in his first week. He weakened Obamacare, fast-tracked environmental reviews for high priority infrastructure projects, and ordered a wall built on the border with Mexico — along with the ban on refugees and travellers from Syria, Sudan, Iran, Libya, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.
President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, speaks at the Homeland Security Department in Washington on Wednesday. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP via The Canadian Press)
Executive orders are legally binding documents that allow the U.S. president to implement policy, without going through Congress, by directing government agencies and departments. Presidential memoranda are similar to executive orders, but they carry less weight and do not need to be published in the Federal Register.
In his first week, Obama issued 11 memoranda. Trump issued nine. He used a memorandum, for example, to invite TransCanada to resubmit its application for the Keystone XL pipeline and to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
Leslie, who may be off to the U.S. soon to meet his American counterparts, said everyone needed to “stay calm and carry on.”
“The whole idea of standing firm on our values, by all means, but working cooperatively with our biggest friend, largest trading partner is perhaps the wisest approach,” he said.
“We will make sure that we take care of our interests — security, trade, a whole host of others — while defending our values,” he added.
Trudeau speaks with Leslie at a ceremony in Ottawa on Oct. 22, 2015. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)
Leslie was also asked what he thought of White House spokesman Sean Spicer using Sunday’s deadly attack on a Quebec City mosque to justify the Trump’s ban.
“That’s his opinion,” he responded. “I think the important thing is for all of us to focus on the magnificent reaction of Canadians.”
Earlier Tuesday, Leslie appeared on CBC Radio’s The Current where he sidestepped questions on whether Canada has a responsibility to “stand up” to the Trump White House.
Canada needs to keep building relationships with the administration, Leslie said, noting that that was how the federal government had received clarification “within hours” over the weekend that the U.S. travel ban would not impact Canadians “who have a valid passport.”
“That was the way that business should be done. The Americans, as we know so well, are our closest friends and biggest ally. The temptation may be there to criticize them publicly but that’s not what friends do,” the parliamentary secretary said.
"The Americans, as we know so well, are our closest friends and biggest ally. The temptation may be there to criticize them publicly but that’s not what friends do."
“If you’ve got differences, you resolve them quietly. You resolve them person-to-person, based on longstanding relationships, and I think we’re on track to do that.”
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel has noted the government has yet to receive written assurances that Canadian nationals, including dual-citizens, won’t be impacted at the border.
The NDP demanded on Monday that the government speak out more loudly and clearly state it disagrees with Trump’s discriminatory ban.
“The presidential decree of Mr. Trump blocking access to United States from people seven Muslim countries, I think it's disgusting,” said Alexandre Boulerice, the NDP’s Quebec lieutenant Monday. “It's a kind of racism. It's an idiocy and it's not efficient at all to improve the safety of United States.”
May defends Trudeau's stance
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, however, said that while she won’t shy away from expressing her outrage against Trump’s actions, she doesn’t Trudeau, as prime minister, should be as dismissive.
“His chances of influencing [Trump] will go directly down when he uses strong language,” May said. “Trump obviously has a thin skin.”
The Commons will hold an emergency debate Tuesday evening on the Trump’s travel ban.
With files from Ryan Maloney