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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

President Clinton, Canada, and you

Last week, we looked at the (unlikely) possibility of Donald Trump winning the presidential race, and what that would mean for Canadian business. If you haven’t read that article, I recommend you do so first – we’re going to reference a lot of policies and statements from that one here.

It’s far more likely that we’ll see the election of Hillary Clinton in November, with Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog currently showing that, if the election were held today, Clinton has an 89 per cent chance of victory.

Since we’re almost certain to have a President Clinton in 2017, and not a President Trump, what would that mean for Canada and Canadian business?

Bill Clinton originally signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in 1993. When taken as a continuation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, it has more than tripled the value of our exports to the United States. Trump, as we noted last week, disagrees with the solid economic evidence that NAFTA has greatly benefited all participants, and argues that the United States has become an economic whipping boy thanks largely to these agreements.

Hillary Clinton has also recently been more skeptical about NAFTA, recently stating that the agreement should be “adjusted,” which is still probably better than Trump’s plan to scrap it altogether. However, while she was First Lady, she supported it as her husband signed it into law. This is not the only issue on which she has reversed her stance.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is another trade agreement that Clinton has changed positions on. This is a (potential) free trade agreement that would be of enormous net benefit to a dozen countries around the Pacific Ocean, including Canada. As Secretary of State, she praised the agreement as something that would “create new jobs and opportunities” and “set the gold standard in trade agreements” in 2011-12. By 2014, she was “reserving judgement,” and by October of this year, she was “not in favour.”

Clinton has had many reversals and flip-flops. Notable examples include the Iraq war, where Clinton voted in support of the Bush administration’s plan in 2002, but had changed her position to one of opposition by 2006 – although an acknowledgement of error and an explanation did not come until 2015. Between the late 1990s and mid-2000s, she also stated several times that she believed marriage should only be “between a man and a woman” – a position she reversed in 2013, coming out in support of same-sex marriage after more than a decade opposing it.

Political changes of position are not necessarily bad. Her opponents say that they show Clinton as unprincipled and simply a follower of whatever polls and focus groups say is most popular right now, but a politician who is closed-minded, believes they already have all the answers, and is impervious to new information is just as bad. Her policy reversals are certainly nowhere near those of Trump, with his trademark flip-flops of whiplash-inducing speed and severity – and his brazen lies about them after the fact.

Whatever the case, however, it should be clear that Clinton’s rhetoric may not be indicative of her actual policy, and that even now, in her current anti-free-trade mood, her language is still guarded and seems calculated to give her room to climb down once she moves into the White House without losing face.

So what are the odds of a NAFTA “adjustment” or a U.S. failure to sign the TPP actually happening? Probably not strong. NAFTA-bashing is pretty popular for politicians on the campaign trail, but once in office, they usually move on. Chrétien promised to renegotiate it in 1993, but once elected, never got around to it. Obama made quite a few anti-NAFTA statements on the campaign trail in 2008, but in office, he not only left NAFTA alone but supported the TPP. Clinton’s voting record as a senator is strongly in favour of free trade.

Clinton’s turnaround on free trade could be an attempt to appeal to Sanders supporters, who generally oppose free trade, and pick up their votes. If so, the strategy may be working – the Pew Research Centre reports that 90 per cent of Sanders supporters plan on voting for Clinton. Clinton’s changes of heart on these and other issues would give a skilled opponent ample ammunition in debates. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that she doesn’t face one, though, as Trump’s antics veer from erratic to outright criminal.

Unlike Trump, Clinton is opposed to Keystone XL. Previously, she had avoided taking a position, but in 2015, echoing the Obama administration, she came out in opposition. The pipeline would be of economic benefit to Canada, and the Trudeau government backs it, but in Niagara, far away from the oil patch, we’re unlikely to see much difference in the local economy either way. If she is elected President, the pipeline deal will probably not go ahead.

On everything else, Clinton is really a status-quo candidate. Politically, this is a smart choice – when comparing her with the gong show currently being held in the GOP, many voters will opt for the slow-and-steady approach that a prospective Clinton administration offers. What we can probably expect is mostly a continuation of Obama-style governance and policy. On balance, that’s not a bad thing.