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The Globe and Mail

Protectionist policies make Trump unpopular pick for Canadian executives

Canadian business leaders would elect Hillary Clinton in a landslide. Only one in five members of the C-Suite would prefer Donald Trump. There are likely many explanations for this, and Mr. Trump has provided a smorgasbord of reasons to be against him. Undoubtedly one of the most compelling to the Canadian business community is his protectionist approach to trade policy.

The latest edition of the C-Suite Survey demonstrates near consensus support for an open trade policy.

On trade with China, most business leaders think current arrangements are too restrictive and that trade needs to be opened up.

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership is seen by almost all executives as a positive deal for Canada. There is an awareness that Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump are campaigning against the TPP. Yet, the C-Suite wants Canadian and U.S. lawmakers to press ahead with approving and ratifying the TPP.

Expectations for more open trade are strongest with respect to the United States. This is where Mr. Trump is perhaps most threatening. Canadian executives want to go further in opening up our common border. They think the biggest boost to Canada's economy would come from a customs union with the United States that will eliminate trade barriers and non-tariff barriers while allowing freer labour mobility.

Failing that, holding on to the North American free-trade agreement is considered essential. It is almost unanimous among executives that NAFTA has been an important and good thing for Canada. Most think NAFTA will survive the current U.S. electoral cycle, but there is considerable uncertainty and nervousness. A Trump victory will revive one of Canada's most important foreign policy concerns since Sept. 11, 2001 – that the United States would erect a virtual wall at its borders.

Perhaps most interestingly, the C-Suite thinks both government and business need to do more to inform the Canadian population about the value and importance of free trade. Most Canadians wouldn't support Mr. Trump, but likely not because of his trade positions. Indeed, his perspective on trade is probably the area where he is closest to public opinion.

Many Canadians have reassessed the fundamentals of good economic policy because of wage stagnation, rising financial insecurity and growing income inequality. Globalization is under attack throughout the Western industrialized world. Its proponents have a greater onus than ever to moderate its negative impacts and provide citizens with compelling evidence of its value to them. Or change will be coming.

David Herle is principal of Gandalf Group.

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