We’re just hours away from knowing who will be the next president of the United States, in what has been one of the most bitter and divisive elections in decades.
The two candidates have presented Americans with starkly different visions of the future, and indeed, of the country today – and their policies could lead the country in radically different directions.
North of the border, many Canadians have been anxiously following the campaign – and for good reason: many of the next president’s decisions will have powerful spillover effects on us.
The area where U.S. policy has the potential to most severely impact Canadians is the economy; after all, Canada-U.S. trade was worth more than $660-billion in 2015.
Keith Head, professor at UBC’s Sauder School of business says on this metric there’s one candidate who would clearly be more disruptive than the other: Donald Trump, who would bring with him a storm of uncertainty.
“One of the things about electing someone who’s never held elected office is you literally don’t know what they’re going to do. They don’t have a track record in office. There’s this huge set of uncertainties that face Canada,” he said.
Head says there’s two major ways Trump policies could cause problems. The first is Trump’s pledge to slap a 45% tariff on goods coming from China; a move that would require him to pull out of the WTO. Head says that would leave Canada without key trade dispute resolution mechanisms with our largest partner.
The second is Trump’s outright hostility to NAFTA. The Republican candidate has pledged to either renegotiate the agreement, or simply pull out. Head says Canada could try and talk the U.S. into reverting to the old 1988 Free Trade Agreement, an uncertain goal at best, and would expose Canadian exporters to unpredictable and potentially steep tariffs.
Head says because of Trump’s sheer unpredictability and dearth of concrete policies, a third effect on Canada could be wildly fluctuating markets. Just as markets experienced a wash of volatility post-Brexit, they could be sent into a panic following a Trump election.
Head says a Clinton presidency would have much less of an impact on Canada, with a trade policy that reflects a high degree of continuity with the Obama administration.
“If Clinton’s president, I think we’re confident NAFTA’s not going to change very much,” he says.
Clinton has shown a more protectionist streak than many previous democrats, for example pledging to renegotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership. But Head he says wouldn’t be surprised if she found a way to flip back in support of the agreement if elected.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be any bumps in the road. Clinton has pledged to appoint a special trade prosecutor to protect American interests.
“We could come up a little bit bruised maybe on softwood lumber, or some other irritant between Canada and the U.S., but I think most of that is going to be directed at China,” he said.
That particular trade issue is of outsized importance to British Columbians.
The Canada-U.S. softwood lumber agreement expired last year, and a sunset clause preventing any new punitive tariffs expired last month.
Canadian and U.S. negotiators have been trying to hammer out a new deal, but with the Obama administration now in lame-duck territory, no new deal will likely be struck before Clinton or Trump are inaugurated.
But even then, it could be a bumpy road.
Naomi Christensen with the Canada West Foundation says no matter who wins the Oval Office, negotiations will slow down.
“It means a whole bunch of new officials, and that’s probably going to mean a new U.S. trade representative as well, which is the office that Canada is negotiating an agreement with, so it’s going to take a lot more work on our part to get our message across.”
She says the protectionist sentiment she’s seen coming from both candidates is concerning.
“Sometimes of course sometimes once someone is elected you see them tone that down once they are in office, but we have no way of knowing if that is the case,” she said.
Climate and energy
Canada could probably look to Hillary Clinton as a partner in fighting Climate change, and she has pledged to meet the 2050 emissions targets set under last year’s Paris Agreement, to which Canada is also a signatory.
However, her plan avoids any mention of carbon pricing, either through a carbon tax or cap and trade system.
With the Trudeau Liberals promising a carbon price by 2018 – that could put Canadian producers at a competitive disadvantage. It also dims the hopes of Canadian jurisdictions like Ontario and Quebec that have opted for cap and trade of a larger continental market for carbon credits.
On energy, Clinton could deal yet another blow to Alberta’s quest to get oil to international markets by axing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. That move could also cause ripples here in B.C., with added pressure on the Liberals to approve a the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Donald Trump on the other hand has been vocal about his belief climate change is a hoax, and could pull the U.S. form the Paris agreement, potentially hobbling the entire enterprise.
According to a Bloomberg BNA report, he now says he would cut all federal funding dedicated to the issue, to the tune of $100-billion over two terms.
Trump is also expected to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, says UBC political science professor Paul Quirk.
“He’s taken a very strong position that climate change is a bogus concern and we should be acquiring and using energy as freely as we can in order to develop the economy.”
What will the change at the top mean for the Canadian military?
Trump has been very vocal in complaining about NATO, and has challenged U.S. allies for not “paying their fair share.”
But UVic professor of military history David Zimmerman says he doesn’t think it will mean much for Canada in the long run.
“I think much of what he said about NATO is pure rhetoric, and there would probably be very little change,” he said.
Zimmerman predicts where there could be friction is if Trump tries to make big changes to NAFTA, which he says also contains a elements relating to the integration of our militaries.
“Frankly the Amerians need us as much as we need them, simply the geographic reality of our importance to american continental security,” he says, noting Canada could use our military as a bargaining chip in those trade negotiations.
As in many other areas, Zimmerman says a Clinton victory would mean more continuity. He says her tenure as Secretary of State suggests she’ll likely stay the course on Obama’s policies.
With 70+ years of cooperation and highly formalized agreements like NORAD, Zimmerman says either candidate will likely find themselves in trouble if they try and rock the boat.
“Our services in fact are so closely integrated with the Americans continental security, we’re really looking at something that would just continue whatever” the result he says.
Canadians crossing the border could also be looking at a longer wait or increased security under a president Trump, according to UBC’s Quirk.
Trump has been vocal about closing U.S. borders to Muslims and refugees, and has put terrorism at the centre of his campaign.
Quirk says this could spill over into increased security at U.S. ports of entry, including the Canadian border.
“He would have a strong tendency to thicken the border, at least if he were persuaded there were any significant concerns about terrorists coming through the Canadian border.”