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Canadian executives offer a mixed bag of perspectives on U.S. President’s performance

David Herle is the principal at Gandalf Group Inc.

In keeping with civil society's obsession with the machinations of the Trump administration in the United States, this quarter's C-Suite survey took a deep dive into his early days in office.

We found a business community that is a mixed bag of reactions.

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Mr. Trump is unpopular among Canadian business leaders, as he is among most Canadians. His foreign policy and immigration policy are thought by business to be wrong-headed and negative for the United States. He's much less favourably viewed than Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That finding is remarkable, given how positively the business community has received key elements of the President's agenda.

Read more: Canada's CEOs are optimistic, but not hot on Trump

Read more: Trump's temperament remains a key sticking point for CEOs

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They believe his economic policies are likely to spur strong growth in the United States, if they haven't already. While executives are more bullish on the Canadian economy than they have been in some time, they expect U.S. growth to sharply outpace Canadian growth.

Lower taxes, less regulation, and a focus on resource development are all seen as things that will be positive for business, even Canadian business. Most believe the direction of his administration will have a positive effect on their business. The approval of Keystone XL was seen as a very positive signal and one that would help many companies and the Canadian economy over all. But … The "but" relates to protectionism.

Like everybody else, Canadian business leaders are having a difficult time sorting through the signals that emerge from Washington these days. They think it equally possible that the North American free-trade agreement will be tweaked, or thoroughly overhauled. They think a border-adjustment tax is possible, but not certain. The expectation is that some greater restrictions on Canadian free trade will emerge. Fighting them off, or mitigating them, is seen as a critical job for Canadian governments. And, as much as Canadian business thinks that NAFTA is better with Mexican participation, the key objective is to maintain free trade between Canada and the United States.

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To that end, executives were comforted by Mr. Trudeau's successful visit to Washington. They had expected the relationship between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump to be terrible, and now have higher hopes it can be collaborative and constructive. The pressure is now on to use that strong beginning to protect Canada from being left outside fortress America.

From an economic perspective, Canadian business sees a party shaping up in the United States. The important question is whether we are invited or excluded from that party.

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