Suddenly, a monkey wrench has been thrown into the works of Canada-U.S. relations. For so long, Canadian governments worked to make sure relations would be relatively predictable. The U.S. electorate changed that on Tuesday night.
Donald Trump, the surprise winner of the U.S. presidential race, has promised to rip up many of the things Canada has tried to nail down.
The threat of protectionist U.S. moves that would cut off crucial trade links? Canadian leaders signed free-trade agreements to blunt that danger – but Mr. Trump pledged to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Canadian governments have forged deals to beat back the "thickening" of border screening built up since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But everything in Mr. Trump's rhetoric, from immigration to terrorism threats to Muslim visitors, is about bigger, thicker borders – and suggests slower passage for traffic and trade.
Then there are the alliances, from NATO to the Pacific, that made the world, and Canada's place in it, more predictable. Mr. Trump questions their value, and has indicated he will demand allies pay more for U.S. protection. Countries like Japan that rely on U.S. military security, will now be nervous. "Not to mention Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania," noted Fen Hampson, distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.
It is almost impossible to be sure what it all means. Mr. Trump's appeal was never built on policy detail.
But when a U.S. president focuses a major part of his campaign on building up borders in every sense – on trade, immigration, security – you can bet it is a danger to the nation that depends the most on dealings across the border. That's Canada.
Mr. Trump's "America First" slogan does not just mean that other countries, including Canada, come second. It means the United States is not out to build up international rules, the kind that smaller, less powerful democratic counties like Canada count on – now it will use its size and power to get the best deal for itself.
For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mr. Trump means a particular conundrum.
Mr. Trudeau is pressing forward on a climate-change policy to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but trying to accommodate the interests of Canada's energy sector. But the industry is likely to fight if the U.S. president is promising to scrap U.S. emissions-reduction policies and pull out of the Paris agreement on climate change – and that is just what Mr. Trump promised to do.
With Mr. Trump in power in the United States, Mr. Trudeau would find it harder to sell his own climate-change policies in Canada.
That means misaligned cross-border leadership. Pierre Trudeau's foreign policy was at odds with that of Ronald Reagan, and Jean Chrétien did not go to war in Iraq when George W. Bush called. But Mr. Trump is a figure who is, at the moment, so toxic in Canada that Mr. Trudeau has to wonder if he would lose by inviting him to a meeting on Parliament Hill.
But, of course, he has to. Mr. Trudeau was right to avoid talking down Mr. Trump during the election campaign. It is still in Canada's interest to build the relationship.
There are still things to build on. Cross-border security arrangements are important to both. NORAD, the bilateral military air defence alliance, is still valued. It is an alliance Mr. Trump has not criticized.
In fact, Mr. Trump has not criticized Canada much at all. In a scattershot campaign where foreign nations were targets, Canada was not one of them. This country could be the starting point for Mr. Trump to build a friendly side to foreign policy – at least Mr. Trudeau has to try to make it so, and hope it is a way to make Mr. Trump's America more predictable.