No shots fired - yet

Journal Pioneer - - EDITORIAL - GUEST COM­MEN­TARY Peter McKenna is pro­fes­sor and chair of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Uni­ver­sity of Prince Ed­ward Is­land. BY PETER MCKENNA

In a re­cent edi­to­rial by The Globe and Mail, it hit the nail squarely on the head with its as­sess­ment of the cur­rent state of Canada-U.S. re­la­tions. “As a coun­try, we have al­ways as­sumed that our re­la­tion­ship with the United States was based on more than a col­lec­tion of over­lap­ping in­ter­ests, and that an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent would not aban­don com­mon sense in his deal­ings with us, or de­lib­er­ately hurt us,” it sur­mised. The pointed edi­to­rial then went on to ob­serve: “Dis­agree­ments, yes. But no shots fired.” This is what the lit­er­a­ture on bi­lat­eral re­la­tions com­monly refers to as a long-stand­ing Cana­dian Amer­i­can “diplo­matic cul­ture.” That is, an agreed upon set of diplo­matic “rules of the game” and tacit un­der­stand­ings about how diplo­macy be­tween the two coun­tries is to be con­ducted. In gen­eral, the rules of the Canada-U.S. diplo­matic game re­volved round man­ag­ing is­sues bu­reau­crat­i­cally and seek­ing con­flict res­o­lu­tion through diplo­matic in­ter­change. There were no threats of re­tal­i­a­tion or play­ing of power games; no ef­fort to politi­cize bi­lat­eral dis­agree­ments; and no at­tempt to link the res­o­lu­tion of one dis­pute to the un­tan­gling of an­other. In­deed, is­sues and ir­ri­tants would be re­solved on their mer­its and al­ways via a diplo­matic com­pro­mise. Both coun­tries re­al­ized that a cor­dial and con­struc­tive bi­lat­eral part­ner­ship was in the over­all best in­ter­ests of the two coun­tries. Wash­ing­ton un­der­stood, more­over, that cul­ti­vat­ing spe­cial re­la­tions with Canada sent a pow­er­ful mes­sage to the rest of the world. That is, the U.S. can be trusted, plays by the rules and re­spects its ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners and friends. All of that has changed with the un­ortho­dox Trump lord­ing over the West wing - as the fall­out from the G7 has aptly demon­strated. He has no in­ter­est what­so­ever in play­ing by the rules or un­der­stand­ing how valu­able a friendly ally like Canada could be to the United States. Ap­par­ently, he has fig­ured out his own way of do­ing things, which goes against what 13 other U.S. pres­i­dents plainly un­der­stood. Back in the early 1970s, the so­called “Nixon shocks” re­sulted in Wash­ing­ton ini­tially im­pos­ing a 10 per cent sur­charge on for­eign im­ports (in­clud­ing those from Canada, its largest trad­ing part­ner). Up un­til that point, Ot­tawa had been able to fi­na­gle an ex­emp­tion from a host of harm­ful U.S. eco­nomic and bud­get-re­lated mea­sures. And in the case of the Nixon sur­charge, it was ef­fec­tively re­moved after roughly three months (in part be­cause of Cana­dian plead­ing) and the nor­mal bi­lat­eral modus operandi was re­stored. But that was almost 50 years ago. Fast-for­ward to spring 2018 and wit­ness the “Trump shocks” pre­cip­i­tated by the in­vo­ca­tion of an old na­tional se­cu­rity jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to hit Cana­dian steel (along with Mex­ico and the Euro­pean Union) with a 25 per cent tar­iff and a 10 per cent tar­iff on alu­minum. With a more eco­nomic na­tion­al­ist and pro­tec­tion­ist team now en­sconced in the Trump White House (es­pe­cially the likes of Peter Navarro and Wil­bur Ross), a U.S. pres­i­dent al­ways keen to please his po­lit­i­cal base and an ad­min­is­tra­tion de­ter­mined to change the in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic or­der to its own lik­ing, Canada and other West­ern coun­tries are surely in for a rough ride ahead. Need­less to say, a key part of the tar­iff tus­sle was driven by Trump’s be­lief that pun­ish­ing both the Cana­di­ans and the Mex­i­cans will bring them to cry un­cle at the NAFTA ta­ble. Pre­dictably, Canada re­sponded with its own set of tar­iffs on U.S. im­ports (steel and con­sumer goods) - from whiskey to play­ing cards (and to­talling an equiv­a­lent cost of $16.6 bil­lion on U.S. prod­ucts). It is the tough­est re­sponse in terms of re­tal­ia­tory trade ac­tion that Canada has ever en­acted in the post-1945 pe­riod. Of course, the last thing that Canada wants to do is to trig­ger a wider trade war with our big­gest cus­tomer. The real fear, which would be far more con­se­quen­tial in terms of eco­nomic im­pact than steel or alu­minum, is that Trump fol­lows through with his threat to slap a 25 per cent tar­iff on im­ported for­eign cars. That would in­flict enormous eco­nomic dam­age on south­ern On­tario and cost the Cana­dian econ­omy ap­prox­i­mately $80 bil­lion an­nu­ally. I’m not re­ally sure to­day where we go in terms of Canada-U.S. re­la­tions. We’ve never seen this type of bad diplo­matic be­hav­iour be­fore. Per­haps all we can do is wait out the cur­rent oc­cu­pant in the White House and pray that Amer­i­cans come to their senses in 2020.

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