Three Trump positions that should concern Canadians

Donald Trump said many things during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign that caused unease. Here are just three of Trump’s campaign promises that Canadians specifically will be closely watching. 

By: /
November 11, 2016
A man hands a newspaper to a customer at a news stand in New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

For months, in the lead up to Tuesday’s presidential election in the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated that his government would work with whichever candidate was elected to the White House. Now that Donald Trump has been elected president, Trudeau is already starting to make good on that promise. On Wednesday night, Trudeau called Trump to congratulate him on his victory and invited him to visit Canada "at his earliest opportunity." Still, many Canadians who have been plugged into the U.S. election over the past year and a half are asking what Trump’s professed policy positions will mean for Canada.

Here are three of Trump’s stances that could deeply affect Canadians.

1. The United States shouldn’t defend countries that don’t pay up – including Canada.

During the campaign, Trump called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “obsolete” and suggested that allies should be focusing operations on combatting terrorism – a pivot that is already underway, as the outcome of the Warsaw Summit earlier this year showed.

More clues on Trump’s view of the collective defence alliance became clear in July when he told The New York Times that, should he win the Oval Office, the U.S. would not come to the rescue of allies that had not paid NATO’s defence requirement of two percent of GDP (that would include Canada and most other members). If Trump were to follow through on this, it would be extremely worrying for Eastern European NATO members facing hostility from Russia, and would put the credibility of the alliance in jeopardy.

After Trump’s sweeping victory this week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who has been critical of Trump’s rhetoric over the past 17 months, released a congratulatory statement meant to send a strong message: “U.S. leadership is as important as ever.” (For more on the state of NATO, see OpenCanada's report from last month.)

On top of the uncertainty of Trump’s NATO loyalties, his insistent praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and talk of rosier ties, at a time when tensions between the West and Russia are high, have not sat well with Canadians.

“There’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather do than have Russia friendly," Trump said in July. "Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along?” 

In October, it was announced that Canada would send troops to the Baltic Sea region as part of a NATO mission meant to counter Russian influence there. This is in addition to the multinational force Canada will be leading in Latvia early next year. Trudeau has made re-engagement with NATO and the United Nations a cornerstone of his foreign policy; a menacing Trump in those spheres could diminish both organization’s capabilities.

2. Climate change is a “hoax.”

Donald Trump repeatedly called climate change a hoax before running for president and during the campaign. His energy policy envisions an energy independent America, which would be made possible by scrapping all of President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations, putting the Keystone XL pipeline back on the table, “unleashing” America’s shale reserves, and abandoning the Paris Agreement (even though it would take the length of his entire presidential term be able to do so). Trump is also not a fan of the Environmental Protection Agency and cuts to the agency are expected.

According to data from 2012, emissions from the United States contribute 14.4 percent to global emissions – second only to China for the highest emissions per capita. That number is expected to rise dramatically under Trump’s proposed energy policies.

Trump’s plan to revive America’s coal industry should not be welcome news to Canadians; emissions from coal-fired plants across Midwestern states have long impacted the air quality in some of Canada’s most densely populated areas. Some experts are of the opinion that a Trump presidency will be devastating for Canada’s Arctic environment and may jeopardize the Arctic-specific regulations for oil drilling in the region put in place earlier this year. Others worry that with Trudeau moving to implement a nationwide carbon tax, Canada’s energy exports will become less competitive.

How the Trudeau government will respond to a U.S. administration that is in favour of the Keystone XL pipeline remains to be seen. Former prime minister Stephen Harper spent seven years prodding Obama to give the green light on the 1,900-kilometre pipeline that would carry crude oil from the Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, to no avail.

3. Free trade needs to go if America’s going to be great again.

Trump ran on a protectionist economic stance, promising to re-evaluate, and in some cases rip up, America’s trade agreements. During a speech in August, Trump vowed to bring about a “total renegotiation” of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as president. If he were unable to secure a “better deal” with Canada and Mexico, he said, then the United States would exit the free-trade agreement that has been in force since 1994.

Keep in mind, Hillary Clinton also vowed to “review” NAFTA and Barack Obama, during his 2008 campaign, pledged to amend it as well, though he never did.

Economic integration between the United States, Canada and Mexico runs deep. According to a Canadian government website, merchandise trade between the three countries amounted to over US$1.0 trillion in 2015. Within 24 hours of Trump’s electoral victory, the Trudeau government is already signalling a willingness to work things out. David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to Washington, told press on Wednesday that Ottawa is “ready to come to the table” to renegotiate the agreement. What this renegotiation would look like is anyone’s guess.

Now Obama is rushing to pass the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which Trump opposes, by the time he leaves office. Despite facing heavy criticism in Canada, notably from the dairy and auto industries, Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland signed the 12-nation trade deal in New Zealand earlier this year and has launched countrywide parliamentary consultations. In order for the TPP to be ratified in Canada it must be passed by parliament. Globally, however, for it to go into effect, six countries totalling 85 percent of the pact’s economic output have to be on board – that includes the United States.

The TPP has long been a divisive issue in Canada. The government has maintained that it will foster trade and boost growth, while critics say the deal gives too much power to foreign corporations – including the right to sue governments – and that it would decimate the third largest job sector in Canada: manufacturing.