Trump vs. Clinton: How results will influence Canada

A look at how each candidate might influence cross-border relations

A woman stops to take a photo of the U.S. and Canadian flags placed side-by-side on the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington March 8, 2016. Preparations are under way for the official state visit of Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

A woman stops to take a photo of the U.S. and Canadian flags placed side-by-side on the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington March 8, 2016.  (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

OTTAWA — Canada’s neighbour elects a new president Tuesday with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to take up residence in the White House. Each are proposing different agendas for the U.S. that pose questions, opportunities and challenges to cross-border relations.


Connections: Clinton is a known quantity to Canadian officials from her time as a U.S. senator and secretary of state, which has also given her an understanding of Canada’s role in the world, says Gordon Giffin, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada: “Sometimes there’s too much focus on what we sell back and forth across the 49th parallel and not enough attention to the fact that Canada is quite engaged with the United States all over the world on issues and principles and values that we share. And she knows all of that, so she starts from a pretty strong foundation of engagement with Canada.”

Trade: Frustrations over the long-running dispute over softwood lumber could receive a boost with Clinton in the White House, as Giffin predicts Clinton would want to resolve the years-long impasse with a long-term agreement. Clinton is also likely to look for changes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership having expressed criticisms on the campaign trail to maintain support from Bernie Sanders backers. Canada is among the countries negotiating the agreement, and could use the opportunity to find changes for Clinton that help Canada and the United States. Another trade opportunity: Changes to the cross-border labour mobility rules in the North American Free Trade Agreement that Clinton may also be open to updating.

Immigration: Canada could find itself an ally in Clinton over efforts to relocate thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Europe. During the last year, more than 33,000 Syrian refugees have come to Canada, the federal immigration department reports, including about 12,000 privately sponsored refugees. Clinton wants to increase the number of Syrian refugees entering the U.S. annually to 65,000 from 10,000, and is apparently considering creating an American version of Canada’s private-sponsor system. Both could be openings for Canadian officials to better co-ordinate the intake of refugees and address common security concerns.

Pipeline: Clinton has suggested on the campaign trail that she wouldn’t be in favour of the Keystone XL pipeline, which Barack Obama rejected last year shortly after Trudeau officially took office. The position is a recent one for Clinton, suggesting an opening for Canadian officials. Kathy Brock, a policy studies professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., says the pipeline’s economic effects on the United States, the fact Clinton hasn’t cornered herself on the issue, and that she wouldn’t be bound by Obama’s decision could work in Canada’s interest should the Liberals push for Keystone. “This is going to be one thing that Canada will want to immediately get on to the agenda,” Brock says.

Overall: Despite Canada’s best efforts, Canadian interests could be sidelined while Clinton deals with more pressing domestic issues like resistance to her supreme court nominees and congressional Republicans who will work to thwart her agenda at every turn. Coupled with her international obligations like involvement in the Middle East and Asia, Clinton may be hard-pressed to find a lot of time for major new issues in the Canada-U.S. relationship.



Connections: As a self-described outsider of American politics, Trump would have few connections to the Liberal government in the Great White North. Trudeau would have to build a relationship with a man who he has suggested holds different values than himself. And Trump has bashed Canada at various points during the campaign, specifically on health care. Political relationships would be built from scratch. But Trump does have economic advisers familiar with Canada who could guide Trump in cross-border issues, Brock says.

Trade: Trump has been adamant that NAFTA will be no more if he can’t have the document amended to his liking, and is against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Cross-border trade could be thrown into disarray if he follows through on the promises, with officials left to sort out a tariffs regime. There indeed could be short-term pain for importers and exporters as well as the markets that would subside once Trump rolls out policies, Brock says. Canada has loosened its reliance on trade with the United States through a new trade deal with the European Union and TPP, Brock says. Canadian officials have likely thought of specific proposal to update NAFTA to protect Canadian interests and open up new trade opportunities.

Security: Canada’s Syrian refugee policy could complicate work to make it easier to move goods and people across the border given Trump’s proposals for “extreme vetting” of Muslims from countries with terrorist ties, or to suspend visa to citizens from countries with inadequate security screening. Trump is also promising to finally implement a biometric entry-exit visa tracking system at all border crossings. Given the close work Canada and the United States do on border crossings, would Trump demand Canada spending millions to do the same?

Pipelines: Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline project one year ago, saying it wasn’t in his country’s national interests. The project, which would ship Alberta bitumen down to the U.S. gulf coast, would be given new life if Trump was president. Trump wants TransCanada to revive its application for the pipeline, which could be good news for Alberta’s economy and oil companies in Canada that want a pipeline built in the coming years.

Environment: Trump is promising to back out of the Paris climate change agreement, and killing environmental programs that cost the American economy jobs and productivity. That promise goes hand-in-hand with a pledge to lower corporate tax rates. A question the Canadian government would have to consider is this: Would a new carbon pricing scheme and other new tax changes drive companies south of the border, where Trump is promising to make it easier and cheaper for them to do business?

Overall: Given Canadian public opinion polls that show respondents favour Clinton over Trump, it’s not farfetched to say the Liberals are hoping the Republican candidate doesn’t win on Tuesday. Giffin says a Trump presidency wouldn’t be a fatal blow to Canada-U.S. relations: The relationship may be a little rough at the outset based on Trump’s tough stances on trade and immigration, but would smooth out over time. Giffin says the relationship itself is bigger than any one president: “It has a momentum and a centre of gravity that sort of drags an administration towards engagement with Canada, which is good.”


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