October 12, 2016 - 2:34 PM
OTTAWA - When France's leaders look at Canada, they see an oasis in a desert of angry populism that has darkened discussion on the merits of trade and immigration.
In their own country and across Europe, they see a backlash against the waves of immigrants flooding the continent from north Africa and the Middle East, and they hear loud rumblings against liberalized trade, including — in some pockets, at least — Canada's free trade deal with Europe.
They also see the ugliness of the U.S. presidential race, where both candidates have cast aspersions on trade, including the massive 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Not so in Canada.
That's why, when French Prime Minister Manuel Valls meets with counterpart Justin Trudeau this week, he will want to discuss why Canada seems immune to all that noise, say French officials, speaking on condition they not be named.
Over the course of meetings Wednesday and Thursday in Ottawa and Montreal, Valls wants to engage Trudeau on "the political atmosphere in the Western Hemisphere with the rising of populism, protectionism, and all these questions that we see rising in various countries," said one French diplomat.
"But less so in Canada, so that's why the prime minister is interested to hear about the Canadian situation and Canadian solutions."
While some might see it as philosophical navel-gazing, another French diplomat said that thread runs through the very real issues Valls and Trudeau are facing: the rise of Islamic extremism, especially in Africa, and getting the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement done once and for all.
On the former point, Valls is keen to get an update on Canada's plans for sending peacekeepers to West Africa to join the fight against Islamic militants.
The Trudeau government has said it will commit 600 peacekeepers to UN missions, and France has been pushing Canada hard to join the UN mission in West Africa.
France has 3,000 troops fighting a separate counter-insurgency mission in several countries that used to be its colonies, under the banner of Operation Barkhane.
"That is one very important subject," said one diplomat who wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The two countries are making progress on talks that have been taking place "for quite some time now," the diplomat added.
The two prime ministers won't be in a position to announce anything on this visit, but the two countries are getting closer.
"Frankly, it's really going in the right direction."
Canada has the expertise to play a leadership role in the UN mission, said another source, dismissing concerns that the Canadian Forces are out of peacekeeping practice after a long, deadly decade of war-fighting in Afghanistan.
Valls, who arrived Wednesday afternoon in Ottawa, was scheduled to sit down with Trudeau for a private dinner before Thursday's more formal proceedings. Both leaders travel to Montreal on Thursday for a luncheon hosted by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.
Climate change and the Canada-U.S. free trade deal have been singled out by Trudeau's office as being among Canada's top priorities.
"The visit will also allow us to promote greater trade and innovation flows — particularly though CETA — to help grow the middle class and strengthen our economies," Trudeau said in a statement.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016