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Globe editorial: Canadians may want a trade war with Trump, but Trudeau shouldn’t

Canadians are spoiling for a fight with the United States of Trump, it would seem. A strong majority want Ottawa to go mano-a-mano with Mr. Trump on trade, according to a poll done for The Globe and Mail. At the same time, opposition politicians are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to condemn Mr. Trump's excesses, especially his travel bans targeting Muslims.

Faced with these pressures, it's up to Mr. Trudeau to choose his battles carefully. So far, he's done a good job.

He has remained diplomatic about Mr. Trump, at the cost of forgoing the easy accolades that accrue to politicians who megaphone their indignant opposition to the President.

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Instead of crossing rhetorical swords, Mr. Trudeau has quietly but forcefully reasserted Canadian principles: After Mr. Trump signed his Muslim ban, he tweeted out, "To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith."

The government has also stuck to its diplomatic tone in response to Mr. Trump's vow to exit the North American Free Trade Agreement, if the U.S. doesn't get the changes it wants. But that doesn't mean Ottawa has been complacent. Canadian officials are pouring on the charm in meetings with U.S. politicians who are predisposed to favour an open border, crossed by $337-billion (U.S.) a year in American exports.

A majority of Canadians polled for The Globe say they're confident the Trudeau government can protect the country's economic interests while renegotiating NAFTA. But they want Mr. Trudeau to show spine – 58 per cent said Canada should engage in a trade war with the U.S., if necessary.

This is where Mr. Trudeau will truly be tested. It's easy to tell a pollster that you are in favour of a trade war as a show of defiance, but living through one would be another matter. A prolonged fight with the U.S. would be devastating to Canada's economy. If you can do math, you know it.

When NAFTA talks start in earnest, the government will have to show toughness, while recognizing the reality that our economy depends on trade with the U.S. for its oxygen. By remaining diplomatic and avoiding pointless Twitter spats, Mr. Trudeau can put Canada on the best possible footing going in.

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