Well, the unlikely, improbable and (what some thought) impossible happened. President-elect Donald Trump. It has a ring to it; whether it is the purifying ring of a liberty bell or the droning, echoing din of a travelling gong show, still remains to be seen. Only one thing is certain; Trump’s election to the presidency changes the entire dynamic of U.S./ Canadian relations.
Case in point, Trump threatened on the campaign trail to re-negotiate or rip up NAFTA and turf the TPP, and to not necessarily adhere to his country’s NATO obligations in Europe or elsewhere vis-à-vis Russia.
These pledges put Canada in a tight spot if followed through on. We have greatly benefited from relatively unfettered access to the United States market for the past 20 years thanks to the NAFTA agreement, and the TPP promised to give Canada exclusive access to the wealthiest Asia-Pacific region countries. Now Prime Minister Trudeau is going to have to walk on eggshells around Trump until we can be sure which way the United States is going on these agreements.
Historically, it has been a difficult time for Canada when ideologies north and south of the border do not align. Obama and Harper did not see eye to eye, and there was no Keystone XL pipeline for Canada. Going back about 50 years, President Kennedy and Prime Minister Diefenbaker could not stand each other in the least; again to the detriment of U.S./ Canada relations.
Of course, Trudeau’s father Pierre was able to have a productive relationship with then President Nixon despite their ideological and personal differences. Let’s hope the younger Trudeau can put the best interests of Canada first, and stows his overtly socialist ideology in his back pocket when dealing with Trump. They don’t have to agree on every point, or even like each other all that much, but they do have to have a pragmatic relationship which focuses on mutual interests and strategic partnerships.
Trump’s lack of enthusiasm for NATO is a much bigger concern. If Trump as Commander-in-Chief refuses to live up to those commitments there is no doubt the alliance will simply crumble. Russia does not fear a NATO without an active and robust U.S. military machine in the mix. A strong and united NATO is a definite deterrent to an expansionistic and aggressive Russia, a weakened or indecisive one is no deterrent at all.
Trump’s unenthusiastic support for NATO, while Canada has been redoubling its commitment by agreeing to lead and supply troops for a new NATO brigade in Latvia, may leave us in the lurch; and, ultimately, bearding a very dangerous Russian bear in its own backyard without being able to fully rely on our own allies.
Despite these concerns, Trump represents change from the status quo when it comes to U.S./Canada relations. Change can be a very negative thing, but it can also open the door to greater opportunity. President Trump is, at heart, a businessman. He lives for the deal. Our Canadian political representatives better be ready to make their pitch.