Canadians who have yet to decide which party to vote for in this autumn’s election might want to ask themselves whether Justin Trudeau or Andrew Scheer would do a better job of handling the fallout from a second Trump administration.
Donald Trump is so deeply disliked by most Canadians – eight out of 10 Canadians disapprove of the U.S. President, according to polls – that the idea of having him around until January, 2025, seems unbearable. Nonetheless, his chances of re-election are good.
For one thing, Mr. Trump’s supporters are fanatically loyal. In contrast, the Democrats are riven between militant progressives – presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and several others want to eliminate private-sector health care, which is likely to be a non-starter for the majority of Americans who have private coverage – and hapless centrists such as Joe Biden, who is acting like every one of his 76 years.
Economic growth is robust, inflation is under control, and unemployment is low. And this President has – knock on wood – thus far kept the United States out of a new war somewhere.
And the GOP is winning, politically, on the border issue. More than 144,000 people were detained after crossing the southwest border in May. Mr. Trump’s solutions – browbeating the Mexicans, building a wall and terribly mistreating detainees, including children – are either useless or cruel. But the Democrats have offered no solutions at all, and the public is getting fed up.
The Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. But if Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania go red, as they did in 2016, the Electoral College will almost certainly deliver the presidency to Mr. Trump a second time. Those three states will decide the outcome.
So which prime minister would do the best job of protecting Canada from four more Trump years? You could make a case for either Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Scheer.
Mr. Trudeau is a Trump veteran, having fought to renegotiate the North American free-trade agreement. He has forged ties with other leaders seeking to contain the damage the U.S. President has inflicted on the Western alliance. He knows the game.
On the other hand, there is no love lost between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump, who has called the Liberal leader “dishonest and weak.” As a conservative, Mr. Scheer could claim a closer ideological identification with Mr. Trump – to the extent this president has any ideology beyond self-interest.
And Mr. Scheer could be counted on to fight for the ratification of the new NAFTA, just as Mr. Trudeau fought for the ratification of the Canada-EU agreement negotiated by his predecessor, Stephen Harper.
Whoever wins, the prime minister of the next government could find himself in a difficult situation. The economic good times in the United States have been paid for in part by tax cuts and deficits. The first Trump administration is on track to add US$5-trillion to the national debt. The trade war with China is a drag on growth. The debt-to-GDP ratio is 109 per cent – dangerously high.
Chickens roost. Mr. Trump’s policies coupled with the regular economic cycle create a real risk of a recession during the next presidential term.
Mr. Trump thinks tariff wars are a good thing. If he is re-elected, he is likely to expand them beyond China to include the European Union, Mexico and/or India, putting further strain on the global economy. As a trading nation, Canada will feel the impact.
Within the United States itself, things could get very ugly. Democrats will be beside themselves with rage if they win the popular vote yet again, only to lose the presidency in the Electoral College.
Mr. Trump has already undermined the independence of core U.S. institutions, including the judicial system. Right now, he’s trying to find a way around a Supreme Court decision – one he openly criticized – prohibiting him from putting a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
Canada and the world may have to contend with a situation in which the U.S. President attacks core democratic values at home and abroad, stokes racial tensions and even condones outbreaks of political violence.
When Rome fell, Gaul suffered. The next prime minister may face a challenge none of his predecessors have: charting a safe course for Canada as the United States threatens to implode under the continuing presidency of Donald Trump.