U.S. winds of change could blow us over

Canada’s relationship with its biggest neighbour, ally and trading partner is about to radically change

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CALGARY, Alta. Feb. 11, 2016/ Troy Media/ – One thing this week’s presidential primary in New Hampshire has proven is that Canada’s relationship with its biggest neighbour, ally and trading partner is about to radically change.

It’s about to take a dramatic turn to the right. Or is it to the left?

Quite honestly, it’s hard to say which direction the relationship is going. It’s just not going to stay in the limbo it’s been under under the at-times chilly watch of President Barack Obama.

This week’s New Hampshire primary signalled that Americans are toying with the idea of a really big change. One shift would take them right to Donald Trump, the Tea Party poster boy who wants to ban Muslims from entering the country and build a fence between the U.S. and Mexico. He trounced all Republican comers, virtually burying Marco Rubio, the moderate “establishment” GOP candidate, as an also-ran. The other shift would take the nation truly left, under self-described socialist Bernie Sanders. He shocked the Democrats by firmly outdistancing Hilary Clinton in New Hampshire.

While the New Hampshire primary settles nothing – months of primaries will tell the full story – it does raise the spectre of Canada having to deal with a president unlike any other in recent history. And, unlike any other recent moment, it’s almost impossible at this point to predict which side of the spectrum the leader of the world’s most powerful nation will come from.

The Trudeau government would do well to prepare now for a dramatically altered relationship with the U.S. The chill of dealing with Obama’s isolationism gave Canada headaches. One day, we might look on these days with fondness.

What would life be like for Canadians under a Trump presidency? Probably as erratic as his up-and-down debate performances. But recent comments give us a few clues.

Trump set off alarms when he pitched the idea of constructing a giant wall to stop illegal migrants trying to get into the U.S. from Mexico. Good news for us – pressed on whether he would build a similar wall with its northern neighbour, Trump said he would not: “I love Canada.”

Yet such declarations should not mislead; Trump is unquestionably an America-first kind of guy. If protectionist measures are necessary to keep jobs in the U.S., it’s easy to imagine Trump throwing us under the bus.

A Trump Presidency will also prove awkward for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who called out Trump in December for his anti-Muslim attitudes. “I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone that I stand firmly against the politics of division, the politics of fear, the politics of intolerance or hateful rhetoric,” Trudeau declared in a jab pointed directly Trump.

A Sanders Presidency, unfortunately, may prove just as uncomfortable for the Trudeau government. While, at least on the face of it, Sanders seems politically closer to the Trudeau government – his “socialist” ideas include universal health care, massive tax-funded infrastructure stimulus spending, free post-secondary tuition and guaranteed defined-benefit pension plans – they part company on trade.

Sanders has vowed to cancel the NAFTA, an agreement that has given Canada unique and privileged access to U.S. markets. And he would pull out of the “disastrous” Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which would open up 40 per cent of the world’s markets to not only the U.S. but also Canada. It is widely considered that the TPP deal cannot survive if the U.S. doesn’t stay in.

It really is too early to lose sleep on a Trump or Sanders presidency. Political fortunes in the U.S. presidential race rise and fall faster than the price of a barrel of oil.

The only thing we know for certain is that the next president of the U.S. will mean a lot to Canadians’ fortunes. Sleeping with an elephant next door, as the quotable Pierre Trudeau once quipped, means Canada is affected by every twitch and grunt.

When the United States is up we often enjoy the benefits; when it is down we scramble not to get caught in the wake. And when it votes to stage a political revolt our lives inevitably change as a result.

That alone is good reason to follow the tragi-comedy playing out south of the 49th parallel.

Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief and National Affairs columnist for Troy Media. Doug is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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