It’s safe to say that globally mostly everyone’s attention on Nov. 3 will be fixated on the U.S. election, and as usual, Canadians will be waiting anxiously to see who will govern their biggest trading partner. While former U.S. President Barack Obama threw his support behind Justin Trudeau during the last election, Trudeau has maintained that Canada will not cross that boundary and extend an endorsement. Whoever takes the reins after Nov. 3, it will have a discernible impact on the U.S.-Canada’s relationship, one which sees $1.9 billion in trade daily and is connected on issues of race and values.
So, ultimately it begs the questions, who is the best choice for Canada and to work alongside our government?
“I think a Joe Biden presidency is probably more in line with the values and politics of most Canadians. Our centre of gravity politically is quite different than it is in the U.S., so a Biden win would fit more with the general culture and values of most Canadian voters,” said David MacDonald, Professor of Political Science at the University of Guelph.
For former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson it’s not just about where Biden falls on the political spectrum that would be best for Canada, a lot of it is who Biden has been as a politician, and what Trump is not.
“He's pragmatic, internationalist, multilateralist, and he has an appreciation of Canada and the value of neighbours, allies and friends that has not been exhibited by Donald Trump,” said
Colin Robertson is a former Canadian diplomat.
Despite his more than forty years working in Canada’s foreign service including helping to negotiate the original NAFTA in 1994, Robertson admits that he’s never seen anything like what Trump has done in the White House.
“Trump is a departure from anything we've ever seen before, the previous presidents have been broadly internationalists whereas Trump is, as he puts it, quite bluntly, America first, almost isolationist in how he addresses problems,” said Robertson.
Better equipped to handle COVID-19 pandemic?
There is no bigger story in the world right now than COVID-19, which has seen scientists around the world working together to help bring a cure to the deadly virus. Despite warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) and some knowledge of how it spreads, Canada and the U.S. have had diametrically different responses to COVID-19.
Almost immediately, Canada began shutting down businesses and took information from the WHO seriously, even as the policies adapted. Almost everyday, the prime minister would advise Canadians on staying home, wearing masks and listening to medical advice while Trump consistently challenged and opposed the advice being dished out by his top infectious disease specialists.
As a result of the U.S.’s poor performance with COVID-19, the land-border between the two countries remains closed to non-essential travel until Oct. 31, and a mandatory two-week quarantine is in place for anyone entering Canada. While Trump’s handling of the pandemic has been less than stellar, Biden was part of the administration that contained the Swine Flu (H1N1) to under 13,000 deaths. In January, Biden called for the President to re-instate the pandemic response team he had disbanded before COVID-19.
“I think Biden would probably do a much better job of coordinating here at national policy, which would make it safe for Canadians to open up that border again. If the U.S. had a national strategy and they put billions of tens of billions of dollars into that strategy, it’s better for Canada too. The longer the border stays closed the worse it is for our economy,” said MacDonald.
If the pandemic does continue to persist the way it has in the U.S. and even if Canada flattens the curve, economic losses will still occur in Canada due to limited travel, potential shortages of goods and lack of movement across the border.
“If the pandemic continues to be botched more Americans will be out of work. I'm sure the economy will get much worse, and that will be a horrible thing,” said MacDonald.
Canada’s relationship with the U.S.
It wasn’t long ago that whenever people thought of two international sweethearts, they pictured Obama and Trudeau’s relationship. The jovial bromance between the two men was a key to how the two countries treated each other, and was a symbol at times of how close the two countries are. The Obama-Trudeau relationship is something that could never be replicated by Trump. At times, Trudeau was caught speaking and mocking Trump to other global leaders, Trump often would fire words towards Trudeau and this led to what some MacDonald called a “fractured” and “disingenuous” relationship between the two leaders.Trudeau’s friendship with Obama shows that there is a likelihood that he and Biden, Obama’s former Vice President can get along easily, and get back to having that strong bond.
“Obama never wasn’t too hard-going with Canada. He, among many other Democrat leaders and some Republicans were really interested in building strong alliances,” said MacDonald.
Usually when a new President is elected, the first international trip they make is either to Mexico or Canada, both which are neighbours and close allies of the U.S. Whether it was George W. Bush, Bill Clinton or Obama, all those Presidents followed the tradition laid out by Ronald Reagan, but Trump didn’t visit Canada until 18 months into his tenure.
“Donald Trump's first trip was to Saudi Arabia and then to Israel. Traditionally, a president has come to either Canada or Mexico, and I think that that would probably be what Joe Biden would do. They'll begin to outreach internationally also, which will be necessary for Biden to demonstrate that America's back,” he said.
Since assuming office, Trump has made a series of moves to remove the U.S. from global agreements: most recently he pulled out of the WHO, talked about leaving NATO, negotiated NAFTA, exited the Paris Climate Accord, left the Trans-Pacific Partnership, withdrew from UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council and tore up the Iran deal. In MacDonald’s eyes, Trump’s willingness to exit global partnerships has affected the U.S.’ relationship with a lot of countries, and that is part of what makes Biden so appealing.
“All of America's traditional allies are feeling a pinch of Trump's style of doing politics. I think Biden's attractiveness is that he could restore, the way that the U.S. is traditionally conducted itself internationally,” said MacDonald.
The lessons of renegotiating NAFTA
There are few people who know trade between Canada and the U.S. as well as Colin Robertson who is a part of the Deputy Minister of International Trade’s NAFTA Advisory Council. Trump ran on the promise of ‘America First’ and said he’d do whatever to ensure America and got the best deal, but in doing so Robertson said there has been little thought about how that affects allies.
“I think that the one lesson out of the renegotiation of NAFTA is that you certainly cannot depend on the administration. On the trade front, our relations are so vast that we have to build and reinforce the shared appreciation of a mutual prosperity that depends on the ability to trade back and forth because we are each other's largest trading partner,” he said.
Part of the problem that trade partners like Canada are facing is simply the lack of bodies in the State Department. In Roberston’s experiences, the discussions are usually handled by the mid-level and negotiators, but because the Trump administration has simply failed to hire enough of those people, it’s had a poor effect on international relations.
“Under Trump, there are still a number of positions in the State Department which just simply haven't been filled. That makes it very difficult for foreign governments to find the intermediate points to enter because we have to have a relationship with the top,” he said.
For Roberston it’s not just the lack of bodies in the government, but also the revolving door of cabinet members and advisors that has greatly affected how countries engage with the U.S.
“One of the biggest problems for us is the revolving door in the administration. We're our second secretary of state, our third defence secretary, our fourth national security adviser. These changes make it very difficult for other governments to establish relationships. The point of trust in diplomacy, it's relationships,” he said.
Climate could become a worse issue with Trump
While COVID-19 is imminently the most concerning topic for governments across the world to be dealing with, the looming doom faced by climate change has not gone anywhere. Most of Canada voted for parties that support a carbon tax, want fewer emissions and to see more green-initiatives introduced in the economy, but in the U.S. the current administration doesn’t believe in climate change.
“The biggest impact of another four more years of Trump will weigh a lot on future generations, my children and so on, especially on the topic of climate change because Trump doesn't care at all about issues of climate change,” said MacDonald.
Biden has indicated he would follow the global views and would likely re-enter the Paris Climate Accord and would encourage fellow countries to scale up their targets. In addition to re-joining the Paris Climate Accord, Biden has tapped Representative (D-NY) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is lobbying for the Green New Deal to be implemented.
Leading up to the election issues of race, healthcare and jobs will dominate the headlines, future generations like the TikTok teens who pranked Trump are focused on how far he could set back the country and the world if he has four more years to deny climate change.
“If Trump gets in for another four years, you're gonna see a catastrophic problem with climate change, and that's gonna be the ultimate legacy of a Trump Presidency,” said MacDonald.
Black Lives Matter, race issues in U.S. impact Canada
The legacy of the Trump Presidency could be defined by its record on climate change in the future, but currently its known as the being a country that is racially-divided and has sparked conversations across the world about how to treat BIPOC people.
“Over the Trump presidency he’s had some pretty strong white supremacist views. Joe Biden...has got a bit of a checkered past with those issues, but nothing to this level,” said MacDonald.
When the statue of confederate general Robert E. Lee was removed, discussion in Canada amongst Indigenous and larger communities gathered steam that Canada needed to address its own racist past. Whether it was removing the John A. MacDonald statue or Canadian politicians like Kellie Leitch, Doug Ford and Derek Sloan adopting Trump-like politics, the effects of what happens down south has run upstream. More so, MacDonald thinks that America’s inaction for its BIPOC people and its treatment of migrants and non-Americans has allowed for Canadians to rest in their laurels about what’s happening in our own country.
“If the U.S. is really bad in terms of race relations or other issues that allows often Canadians and Canadian governments to give themselves a bit of a free pass to say, ‘well, we're way better than the U.S.’ It creates inaction in Canada on the important issues,” said MacDonald.
During the first debate, Trump had an opportunity to condemn white supremacists, but instead chose to target Biden for not speaking about non-existent organizations like Antifa, which is short for Anti-fascists. It wasn’t the only time Trump had failed to disavow white supremacy, and Robertson thinks it won’t be last if he’s re-elected.
“Biden you’ll him at NAACP meetings, but you're not gonna see him with a bunch of QAnon extremists and lending some substance to their outrageous falsehoods that Trump plays to,” he said.
What does the next four years look like?
Whether it was early admiration from Premier Ford towards Trump or disenfranchised Albertans forming the Wexit party to amalgamate Alberta to the U.S., it’s clear that what happens in America clearly has ripple effects that head north. While MacDonald has been clear on what a Biden presidency would mean for Canada, he thinks that four more years of divisive, gaslighting and protectionist politics from Trump could cause more partisan politics in Canada, too.
“Another Trump win would certainly create a climate where sort of hard, hard right-wing racist reactionary politics would become more normal and this could have an effect in Canada,” he said.
At the start of his term, Trump had surrounded himself with career politicians or experts in their fields, but coming to the end of his term, there’s people with less experience and more devise policies. When assessing the political shift within the Trump administration to becoming more isolationists in global policy and trade, Robertson worries things would only get worse in as second-term.
“I fear the worst. I fear that the guard rails are gone. In the first couple of years he surrounded himself with highly intelligent actors who honour the constitution and believe in the United States, and I I think that they have not been replaced by the same quality of individuals,” said Trump.
Regardless of how things unfold and who ultimately assumes the office, Robertson hopes Biden or Trump understand that both countries won’t be on the same page, but these relationships need a certain level of care and ultimately respect for one another.
“There are going to be differences, there are always differences. You can have a relationship with differences, but it's how they're managed, how you do things, it requires great care on both sides,” he said.