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Canada and the US Election

While Canadians do not have a vote on 8 November, you could be forgiven for believing that they do. Like in the States, this is almost all America’s neighbours to the north talk about.

Canadians tend to see the US electoral process as a combination of the crazy and the curious, in contradistinction to their own. For example, in 2015 current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected after the longest campaign in Canada history, which lasted all of eleven weeks!

Trudeau won a majority of seats in the House of Commons with only 39.5% of the vote, a percentage that would not suffice for an electoral victory in the USA. In the election, 68.5% of the electorate voted, a much higher turnout than in any recent US poll.

If Canada’s twenty-five million electors could vote in the US election, they would vote overwhelmingly, even if not necessarily enthusiastically, for Hillary Clinton.

Of course, there is some support for Trump among Canadian voters. Like in the US, there is a constituency that feels passed by, who sense their values to be under attack, whose economic livelihood has disappeared or appears threatened, and who see their identity challenged by the multiculturalism espoused by the centre. But their numbers in Canada are relatively small compared with those of their soul-brothers across the world’s longest border. A recent poll had only around 15 per cent of those surveyed favouring a Trump victory but 80% per cent fearing the consequences, should it come to pass.

Canadians can be smug about US-Canada comparisons, feeling for the most part that Canada is a politically saner place to live, in part owing to the belief that Americans do not know what they are doing while Canadians, of course, do. Apart perhaps from the firearms issue, this is so much hogwash. Canadians are not any better informed than their American counterparts about what it going on in their country or in the world. American unawareness is, however, incredibly more strategically relevant than the Canadian variety. American ignorance is potentially a war and peace issue, Canadian ignorance hardly so. Well maybe not – more about that in a moment.

If Donald Trump wins the election, Canada will find itself vulnerable on a number of fronts.

Trump has taken fire at NAFTA, the free trade agreement that the USA, Canada and Mexico signed in 1994. This has been great for the greater Northern American economy. If it were to be junked, the impact would be devastating. Canada and the US trade more with one another than any other two countries. NAFTA has also spurred impressive economic growth in Mexico (with which Canada will be inaugurating a visa-free regime as of 1 December). The US approach to its southern neighbour has been anything but perfect; that said, America does not face the harrowing challenges that the European Union now does on its southern flank.

Hillary Clinton, has also been projecting an anti-trade posture, reversing a previously pro-trade stance. However, I think there is a sense here in Canada that if Hillary wins, she will back off – just as did Jean Chretien after winning the 1993 Canadian election when he went ahead to implement NAFTA despite his campaign promise to kill it.

A second issue where Canada is vulnerable concerns its defence preparedness, A country that at the time of the Korean War had the fourth most important armed forces in the world has lost much of its former military prowess. Canada can still do peacekeeping but, however important this may still be, it is no longer the flavour of the times.

Canada’s posture in the Arctic is a case in point. For example, in March 2015, Canada organized manouvres in its northern parts with some 220 troops, the vast majority of them deployed northwards from bases in the Canadian south. At the same time, Russia held exercises in its northernmost reaches that mobilized some 75,000 military.

There is not much of anything that I agree with in Trump’s platform. But in wanting US allies to pay their way, he is right on, even his approach leaves much to be desired. Canada is one of the eight NATO allies that spend 1% or less on their security. So, in the event of a Trump victory, Canada could no longer count on the Americans to be their front line in the Arctic – or anywhere else for that matter – unless they started to take their national security much more seriously. This is an area where Canadians have a blind spot as big as anything that exists south of the border.

A third issue is about the prospect for continuing gridlock in Washington, accompanied by politically-generated violence, in the wake of the elections, especially if Trump loses. More than a million Canadians reside in America; tens of thousands of snowbirds winter in the southern states. Seventeen of the twenty urban centres most favoured by Canadian tourists are in the USA.

We could also talk about the Trump threat to walk away from the landmark Paris environmental accord, whose implementation is a central plank of the Trudeau government. Then there is the softwood lumber dispute between the two countries that has been grinding on since the 1980s.

These are all questions that are likely to be in play regardless of who wins on 8 November. The policy approaches would differ but the issues will all need addressing, one way or the other.

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