The Hamilton Spectator

Bracing for Trump, the sequel


There were tariffs, threats and tantrums. And now, the real worry that history may repeat itself.

Those in charge of steering Canada’s relationsh­ip with the United States insist their latest Team Canada initiative is not a reaction to the prospect of Donald Trump returning to the White House. But there can be no doubt that the disruption­s, turmoil and sheer drama that marked Trump’s first term as president is one key impetus for the campaign now underway.

“Our mission is simple but strategic … making sure that we make our friends understand the strategic nature of the relationsh­ip around security, around prosperity and around resiliency,” says Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne.

“Not everyone in the world wakes up in the morning thinking about Canada. We always need to make sure that our strategic allies understand the nature of that relationsh­ip,” he told the Toronto Star’s editorial board this week.

Of course, all presidents look out for the American self-interest. Joe Biden’s Buy American strategy, for example, raised fears that Canadian exporters could be frozen out. But Trump’s time as president was, at times, marked by an unpreceden­ted level of rancour and threats to upend the economic relationsh­ip.

There were difficult talks around the renegotiat­ion of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the on-again, off-again imposition of U.S. tariffs on imports of Canadian steel and aluminum that sparked retaliator­y moves by Canada.

And there were personal insults and social media jabs that blew up after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke out about the U.S. protection­ist moves. Peter Navarro, one of Trump’s trade advisers, declared there was a “special place in hell” for Trudeau. Trump himself called the prime minister “very dishonest and weak.”

As that unfolded, Canada launched efforts to, in essence, go around the White House and seek out influentia­l alliances in U.S. political and business circles that could help blunt these harmful moves. Canadian politician­s and diplomats, wiser for that bruising experience, have wisely revived that strategy. With Trump sweeping the Super Tuesday primaries this week, it’s certain he will be the Republican candidate to face off against Democrat Biden.

Trump has already threatened a 10 per cent across-the-board tariff on imports. One thing learned from his first turn as president is that while he will say things that seem outrageous, people should take note because he will make good on those statements.

That adds some imperative to the latest Team Canada initiative, led by Champagne, Internatio­nal Trade Minister Mary Ng and Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador in Washington. Their initiative was announced at February’s cabinet retreat. But the effort has been underway for months, to build awareness of the trade relationsh­ip and forge allies among decision-makers at all levels, from U.S. senators and representa­tives, state-level politician­s, including governors, business and union leaders, and mayors. It goes into the United States, beyond Los Angeles and New York to states like Arizona, Nevada, Arkansas and Louisiana, “all places where Canadian companies are deeply invested … to make sure that people know that’s going on,” Hillman said.

“It also, if I can be blunt, is an exercise in illustrati­ng to Americans across the country why they need us and for what, because that’s, to be crass about it, that’s leverage … in a moment where things aren’t working out for us,” she said.

They’ve been in touch with Republican advisers and are combing party policy proposals for any hint they could have a knock-on effect on Canada-U.S. relations. They are connecting with senior Republican­s who could be part of Trump’s inner circle or cabinet if he wins the election.

Canada can play up the themes of jobs and prosperity. But it will need a better answer on the issues of security and defence, especially if Trump wins. It was just a few weeks ago that he blustered he would not defend NATO allies that fell short on their defence spending. While Ottawa can point to being a partner on Norad modernizat­ion project, it’s seen as a laggard on defence spending.

November’s presidenti­al elections will make for an unpredicta­ble year in Canada-U.S. relations, especially so if Trump is returned to the White House. Canada is wise to get ready, even if Team Canada won’t admit that outcome is its biggest fear.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada