A trade war is the last thing Canada needs

THE SPECTATOR’S VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau will meet with Don­ald Trump Mon­day. Ac­cord­ing to a new poll com­mis­sioned for the Globe and Mail, most Cana­di­ans want him to stand up against the pres­i­dent’s ag­gres­sive Amer­ica-first poli­cies, even if it means get­ting into a trade war.

The Nanos poll found that 58 per cent of those sur­veyed would sup­port a trade war with the U.S. if Trump slaps new tar­iffs on Cana­dian ex­ports. Re­ally? That’s tough talk. We wouldn’t ques­tion the re­search, but it does make us won­der if that ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents fully un­der­stood what they’re sup­port­ing. A trade war with Amer­ica would not be pretty. Canada would not fare well given how much more we need their busi­ness than they need ours, and given how thor­oughly un­pleas­ant it would be to find our­selves in Trump’s in­fa­mous Twit­ter feed.

It’s true that mil­lions of Amer­i­can jobs and a lot of busi­ness — es­pe­cially in bor­der states that backed Trump — would also be caught in the fall­out from a trade bat­tle. But based on the sheer size of our economies, the stakes are higher for Canada than the U.S.

For­tu­nately, Trudeau won’t be gov­erned by opin­ion polls, al­though it must give him some com­fort to know that the same poll shows 57 per cent of re­spon­dents feel con­fi­dent he and his gov­ern­ment will do a good job rep­re­sent­ing Cana­dian in­ter­ests in trade ne­go­ti­a­tions. In­stead of go­ing toe-to-toe with Trump, fig­u­ra­tively, Trudeau will no doubt main­tain the same cau­tious and pos­i­tive ap­proach he has ben­e­fited from to date. It has served Canada well so far that he didn’t get into Trump-bash­ing when oth­ers did, in­stead main­tain­ing an open hand and mind to­ward the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion. That can­not have been easy to do given Trump’s ide­ol­ogy is anath­ema to Trudeau and most Cana­di­ans.

But busi­ness is busi­ness. Canada must main­tain a con­struc­tive if not to­tally re­spect­ful re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. if at all pos­si­ble. The very same peo­ple who voted to stand tough could be singing a very dif­fer­ent tune if our ex­ports are blocked or taxed and Amer­i­can im­port prices sky­rocket due to penal­ties im­posed by Canada in re­tal­i­a­tion.

Make no mis­take, that could hap­pen. In­tel­li­gent spec­u­la­tion has it that Canada’s dairy mar­ket­ing prac­tices will be among those tar­geted by Amer­i­cans as be­ing pro­tec­tion­ist. Guess what? They are. But if we didn’t have some pro­tec­tions in place and trade with the mas­sive Amer­i­can dairy sec­tor was wide open, what would be­come of our dairy farm­ers?

That’s just one ex­am­ple of the sort of del­i­cate bal­ance Trudeau and his gov­ern­ment must strike. Cana­di­ans have said they have con­fi­dence in Trudeau. Now he and his gov­ern­ment must live up to those high ex­pec­ta­tions.

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