With the conventions wrapped up, it’s now official – Donald Trump is the Republican Party candidate for President of the United States. The odds that he’ll win the election are very slim (at best), but why, and what would a Trump victory mean for Canada?
After a brief and predictable post-convention surge, Trump’s polling numbers nosedived again, and it’s likely that they will remain there until November 8th. While his rhetoric plays well with a certain portion of the electorate, his language, worldviews, and his stream of gaffes and ill-advised statements made whenever he goes off-teleprompter will continue to alienate him from the majority of the U.S. electorate, especially amongst women, ethnic minorities, immigrants, the LGBT community, and other minorities. At time of writing, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight gives Hillary Clinton more than an 80 per cent chance of winning if the election were held today, based on aggregate to-date polling.
Politicians often don’t plan for the unthinkable. Jean Chrétien never made contingency plans for a “Yes” vote in 1995. More recently, David Cameron foolishly neglected to plan for a “Leave” vote in the UK “Brexit” referendum. Maybe we shouldn’t do the same, and actually think about what a Trump presidency would mean for us before November 8.
Many of our American friends are rightfully worried about Trump’s ideas for domestic policy. In that field, the powers of the President are severely curtailed by Congress, the law, and the courts. Trump would quickly discover that many of his plans would be kyboshed on day one.
The same isn’t true in foreign policy, however, where the President has a great deal more power. What’s puzzling about Trump is his attitude not towards America’s enemies, but towards America’s friends and allies.
Trump has publicly said that NATO members should increase their defence spending (the NATO guideline of 2 per cent of GDP to be spent on defence is exactly that and is not adhered to by many, including Canada, which spends less than 1 per cent), and those who don’t should be kicked out. He promised that he would “absolutely be prepared to tell those countries, ‘Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.’”
In the face of increasing Russian belligerence and the apparent restarting of the Cold War, this is not a good development for NATO partners such as Canada. Meeting his requirements would cost our government $20 billion a year; if Canada and our allies fail to do so, it would be a virtual deathblow to NATO and would leave allies in eastern Europe and the Baltic states vulnerable to Russian aggression of the kind recently seen in Ukraine and Georgia. Indeed, Trump even now appears to back aggressive Russian territorial expansion.
He’s also been a vocal opponent of free trade agreements. He has vowed to take action against China that would essentially amount to a trade war, including punitive tariffs of the sort that led to and heightened the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Trump stated that in Canada-U.S. trade, the U.S. “loses with Canada – big-league.” He promised to withdraw the U.S. from NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, to which Canada is a signatory and which has, in continuation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA), more than tripled the value of Canadian exports to the United States.
A U.S. withdrawal from these trade agreements would have a very negative impact on commerce and trade for all participants. Our friends in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated that Trump’s trade policies would cause a recession and seven million lost jobs in the United States. With so much of Canadian foreign trade being with the U.S. – we are each other’s largest trading partners – there would probably be a similarly earth-shaking economic impact here.
Moreover, according to the terms of the original agreement, Trump could actually do this if elected – and he could also stall the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the 2015 free trade agreement between 12 countries around the Pacific Rim, including the United States, Canada and Japan.
He does support the Keystone XL pipeline, however, which the Obama administration rejected in 2015 (although he wants “a better deal”). Clinton reversed her earlier position at around the same time as the current administration came out in opposition, and now opposes the pipeline too, which Trudeau and the Liberal government favour. The positive economic effects of the pipeline, however, would be entirely lost in the massive, negative economic impact of a U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA and a refusal to ratify the TPP.
We’ve all heard about Trump’s plan for a “beautiful” wall between Mexico and the United States (which, he assured us, he will get Mexico to pay for despite there being no legal or diplomatic mechanism by which he could). What about Canada’s border with our neighbours to the south?
The real estate mogul has no plans to add a Canada-U.S. border wall to his list of buildings and construction projects. Thickening the border does not appear to be on his agenda, except inasmuch as harsher immigration laws and policies (if enacted – and, as noted above, there are substantial barriers to a President meddling unilaterally in domestic policy) will necessitate more border security and inspection, which they undoubtedly would. This would mean slowdowns at border crossings, with an impact on tourism, and increased difficulty for Canadians seeking work in or emigration to the United States. However, it’s not the Canadian border that he’s concerned about when he talks about clamping down on illegal immigration, the illegal drug trade, and extremist Islamic terrorism.
And what of all the American liberals who vow they’ll move to Canada if Trump is elected? Don’t bet on many of them actually showing up. We’ve heard these threats before, and there was never a sudden influx of American immigrants after any previous U.S. presidential election. Any who applied might be shocked to learn that the immigration process in Canada is surprisingly difficult and expensive, and that they won’t be allowed to bring their guns with them.
But all of this is as unlikely to come to pass as a Trump presidency itself. Next week, we’ll talk about the far more likely outcome of a Clinton victory, and what that means for Canada and Niagara businesses.