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Relationship-building Prime Minister Justin Trudeau achieved with the White House will be tested under Donald Trump. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Relationship-building Prime Minister Justin Trudeau achieved with the White House will be tested under Donald Trump. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Trump’s victory shifts political ground for Trudeau Add to ...

The big question for newly elected Justin Trudeau last year was whether he was really going to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. A big question for Donald Trump is whether he’ll really build a border wall.

These are two leaders going in different directions: on refugees, borders, trade, climate change, even international security, on ideological inclination, political base and personal style. Mr. Trudeau played on the notion that he’s the anti-Trump. And his supporters liked it.

It’s not just that the PM and president-elect are misaligned. Mr. Trudeau is out of whack with a U.S. leader who is casting doubt on the fundamentals of the Canada-U.S. relationship, starting with the rules for the $760-billion trade that’s key to Canada’s economy.

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A week ago, Mr. Trudeau was in control of his agenda. Now, much of it could come under pressure. There’ll be new accusations his climate-change policies will disadvantage Canadian industry when the new president scraps emissions-reduction measures. Anxious business leaders might fear that welcoming Syrian refugees in Canada could lead to U.S. border-screening slowdowns. And it isn’t just the Trudeau agenda, but the Canadian economy, that the PM must protect, because the NAFTA threat Mr. Trump aimed at Mexico might sideswipe Canada.

Mr. Trudeau has continued to smile. If Mr. Trump wants to talk about the North American free-trade agreement, he’s “happy to,” he said Thursday. But that was insincere phrasing, as in politicians who say they’re “happy to” co-operate with a police investigation. It’s making the best of bad options.

Maybe, some think, Mr. Trump won’t really act on NAFTA. It was campaign bluster. There’ll be pressures to back off. But how can he not go ahead?

To those who elected him, especially in rust-belt states such as Michigan that clinched his win, NAFTA is bigger than the border wall, a synonym for job losses. Mr. Trump needs a symbol that he’ll deliver. He’s likely to call for early talks and demand deep concessions from Mexico, possibly the kind Mexico can’t accept. Canada isn’t the target, sure, but Mr. Trudeau suddenly needs a strategy for broad, bilateral trade talks with a U.S. in a surly, protectionist mood.

Eight months ago, Mr. Trudeau had supposedly reset Canada-U.S. relations. Barack Obama welcomed him to the White House on a sunny March day. Mr. Trudeau had campaigned on a pledge to end the “antagonism” that developed under his predecessor, Stephen Harper, to help Canada’s economic interests.

That March moment gave Mr. Trudeau something more, a perception he had an ally in a U.S. President who is popular in Canada. Until Tuesday night, Mr. Trudeau’s advisers didn’t dream the alliance wouldn’t continue with Hillary Clinton. Now, Mr. Trudeau must reset again, with a new president most Canadians don’t like, and a risk that the left wing of his voter base will be sickened by cozying up to Mr. Trump.

But there are driving pressures to get close. Canada’s business community is eager to see Mr. Trudeau dampen the danger. Mr. Trump’s threat of 35-per-cent tariffs on Mexican goods isn’t pointed at Canada. But does that mean Canadian products, such as autos, will be tariff-free?

“Uncertainty is the enemy of investment, that’s for sure. It’s probably the enemy of employment,” said Warren Everson, senior vice-president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Business and government are gearing up a lobby to remind American politicians Canada is their best customer. “I think it’s in our mutual interest to work together to build a stronger economy. And I think that reality has already dawned on them,” David MacNaughton, the Canadian ambassador to Washington, told reporters this week.

His predecessor, Gary Doer, said there are Canada sympathizers in Mr. Trump’s circle, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, vice-president-elect and Indiana Governor Mike Pence and former New York police commissioner Ray Kelly, a key adviser on border security.

But it’s unknown who, if anyone, really influences Mr. Trump, or how Canada fits his plans on NAFTA or anything else.

“The honest truth is we don’t actually know what the Trump administration will think about Canada because he’s barely talked about it,” said Duke University professor Stephen Kelly, who served as deputy chief of the U.S. embassy in Ottawa during the tenures of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Mr. Trump’s border polices are aimed at Mexico, but they’re about screening and restrictions. One pledge, installing biometric entry-exit tracking, suggests he’ll ask Canada to share fingerprints of all travellers.

If the business community truly fears Mr. Trump’s border polices will slow trade, Mr. Trudeau will hear sharp pressure. After 9/11, Canada harmonized visa and border rules because of such worries; CEOs pressed Jean Chrétien’s government to enter the Iraq war out of similar fears.

If Mr. Trump raises security concerns about Syrian refugees in Canada, Mr. Trudeau could face business pressure to slow the flow. Mr. Kelly doesn’t think that’s still a hot issue in U.S. politics, in the way that fears of terrorists coming across the Canadian border flared up after 9/11. But if Syrian refugees in Canada become a cause for, say, conspiracy-minded, pro-Trump Breitbart News, who can guess the president-elect’s response?

On the international stage, Mr. Trudeau’s influence rested in part on standing in Washington. His return to UN peacekeeping pleased Mr. Obama. Mr. Trump won’t care. He wants NATO allies to pay more.

There are potential bright spots for Canadian interests, Mr. Kelly said. Mr. Trump emphasizes energy independence, suggesting he’ll open the U.S. to Canadian energy. “It’s go, go, go on fossil fuels,” Mr. Kelly said.

But of course, Mr. Trudeau is also forging a climate-change policy based in part on the notion that the energy industry’s access to foreign markets depends on reducing emissions – an argument Mr. Trump undercuts. And Mr. Trump will pull out of the Paris climate accord, gutting the international treaty.

It’s not just the environment. The global political environment Mr. Trudeau expected is shifting. His politics will be at odds with Washington. In another time, that might have just meant a stiff leader-to-leader relationship on top of cross-border business as usual. But Mr. Trump has made Mr. Trudeau’s world uncertain.

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