Rivers on what Donald Trump could mean to Canada were he to become the President of the United States in January.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

August 13, 2016



For a mouse sleeping next to the elephant, we Canadians are pretty nonchalant about who our neighbours elect to be their president every four years. Or perhaps we know we can wait out a noxious US leader and hope for a better one the next time. Tensions got pretty high when an angry Richard Nixon lost his patience with Pierre Trudeau, calling him a “son of a bitch”, “asshole” and “pompous egghead” – not to his face of course.

Trudeau and Nixon

Former US president Richard Nixon and Pierre Elliott Trudeau, prime Minister of Canada. Not much in the way of trust between these two men.

US President Ronald W. Reagan (L) posing with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney before talks in Ottowa, April 1987. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

US President Ronald W. Reagan (L) posing with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney before talks in Ottawa, April 1987.

Then a little over a decade later Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan were in ideological bed together singing about Irish eyes. Their strong personal friendship enabled Mulroney to disarmed Reagan, and convince the old gaffer, or was that Gipper, to do something about acid rain, a problem Reagan was sure was caused by trees.

Clinton and Chretien, two middle-road liberals, engaged respectfully and warmly with each other throughout their time together. With Mexico they forged the North American Free Trade Agreement which has continued until today. And Clinton convinced Chretien to join him in intervening in the aftermath of Yugoslavia, using Canadian warplanes to help the Americans bomb the hell out of Serbia.

Once Dubya came on the scene, the romance with Washington came to an end. Chretien refused to support GW Bush’s insane adventure to take down Saddam. However Canada’s response would have been different had Canadian neo-con, and Bush admirer, Steven Harper been in power at the time. And Harper did spend a couple of years during Bush’s reign before the leadership changed again south of the border. But it soon became evident that there was no love lost between Obama and his Canadian counterpart, as he stared down Harper’s idle and useless threats over the Keystone pipeline.

Trudeau and Obama

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US president Barack Obama

Trudeau and Obama found a sweet spot in their relationship early on, though Obama is now a ‘lame duck’ president awaiting replacement this November by former First Lady Hillary Clinton or real estate mogul Donald Trump. Given generational factors alone it will be challenging for Trudeau to find a spot so sweet as before with either of these candidates. But as everyone should expect, Mr. Trump, the red neck, would prove the greater challenge.

Clinton is proposing a reasonably left wing agenda, swept even more in that direction by a compromise kiss she accepted from contender Bernie Sanders, in order to keep peace on the home front. Income-geared free tuition, campaign expense reform, equal pay for women, taxing the rich, breaking up the banks, killing the TPP trade deal, increasing the federal minimum wage, background checks for gun purchases, and massive federal infrastructure spending.

Her policies roughly parallel those of Trudeau, as well as some of the provincial Liberal governments. This platform in fact ups the ante for social progress and equality, giving more credibility to Canada’s current political direction. And Mrs. Clinton’s opposition to the TPP would allow Canada to escape from what many consider a bad deal, providing welcome relief to a PM ministering to a divided parliament on this matter.

Hilary Clinton

American Democratic candidate for the office of the president of the United States Hillary Clinton.

Otherwise, Clinton would be expected to continue to follow Obama’s policy framework. Commitment to common defence through NATO, for example, would be maintained consistent with Canada’s current objectives. This is a framework in which Canada’s current leadership would find compatibility, despite questions around ongoing trade irritants, such as softwood lumber or beef. But then those irritants have persisted almost regardless who sat in the white House or whether we had a ‘free trade agreement’ or not.

The future would be way more exciting, albeit more uncertain, under a Trump presidency. Early promises to build a wall with Mexico and ban Muslim immigrants, also raise concerns about potential limitations to free access for Canadian businesses and snowbirds. Trump’s musings on NATO and Russia could, ironically, push the EU into a Eurocentric defence posture, possibly leaving Canada to fend on its own when it comes to arctic sovereignty.

And of course Trump’s proposed trickle-down Reagan-style tax cuts would lead to more articles from the Frazer Institute and National Post decrying how poorly the 1% are being treated here in Canada. Meanwhile his massive deficits and increased debt would tend to bring down the US dollar and bring us closer to parity, albeit in a currency market once again looking for stability.

Trump would mark another US turnabout on climate change and would rupture the recently announced North American commitment to control that global threat. Trump says that everything would be negotiable. This is not an unexpected response from a man who has shown so little sophistication in matters of foreign or domestic policy. To mis-quote Bob Dylan, when you don’t know nothing, you got nothing to lose. Everything is up for grabs.

Trump Donald

Donald Trump, Republican candidate for the office of the President of the United States

From what he’s said, Trump’s presidency would be a crap shoot, and it could be uncomfortable for us here in Canada. After all, the USA is our largest trading partner, we share our defence policy with them and our cultures and history are heavily intermingled. And for an independent Canadian leader looking to keep our fences in good shape there can be a fine line between dialogue, sucking up or talking back. Still our PM’s have always held their own, including during those rough patches with Harper and Obama and Trudeau and Nixon.

Should Canadians be worried about a Trump presidency? Only in as much as almost everybody else on the planet would be. Despite all his rhetoric, as president he would be limited by his country’s constitution, its current laws and a Congress, which even if it remained Republican would not likely go along with most of his nutty notions. And the way things go in Washington he’d be out of office before half of his really idiotic proposals hit the road.

Oh sure Trump would have access to the nuclear codes – but like Putin and other national leaders with nuclear weapons, he would quickly learn that the nukes can be more of a constraint and liability than an asset.

Ray Rivers

Ray Rivers

Ray Rivers is an economist and author who writes weekly on federal and provincial issues, applying his 25 years of involvement with federal and provincial ministries.  Rivers’ involvement in city matters led to his appointment as founding chair of Burlington’s Sustainable Development Committee.  He was also a candidate in the 1995 provincial election

Background links:

Nixon and Trudeau –   Mulroney/Reagan –  

Clinton’s Promises –   Trump’s Promises

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