A year of Trump: How Canada has been affected by the ‘predictably unpredictable’ president
A year ago today, Donald Trump stunned the world.
Mere hours before the business mogul and reality TV star was elected the 45th president of the United States, pundits and pollsters across the U.S. were still predicting that Hillary Clinton would win the day. That was the outcome most allied nations were betting on as well, including Canada.
But as the results rolled in, it became clear that enough voters were confident that Trump could indeed “Make America Great Again.” His victory was confirmed at 2:40 a.m. ET on Nov. 9 and everything suddenly shifted.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Donald Trump elected president in stunning victory
One year later, that shift has had a profound effect not only on American domestic policy, but on Canada’s approach to its southern neighbour — and on Ottawa’s outreach with the rest of the world.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his closest advisors, and his cabinet have, since the morning after the election, maintained a steady and often covert charm offensive in Washington. It’s unclear how much of an effect it has had on the president, whose attitude toward Canada has seemed to shift from one week to the next.
“What Canadian officials have learned over the past year is despite how much they may have prepared for a Trump victory, I don’t think they could have imagined the extent to which he has flip-flopped on so many different issues,” said Donald Abelson, professor and chair in the department of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario.
“I think the problem that we’ve had, on all fronts, is that Trump has been predictably unpredictable.”
Here’s a look at how Trump has affected us since his shock victory last November, and where we may be heading from here.
When it comes to the Trump fallout north of the border, no policy area has been more visibly and more profoundly affected than trade.
While the real changes out of Washington didn’t start until after Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, the president’s protectionist leanings were obvious early in his campaign. “America First” became his rallying cry in many U.S. states where manufacturing jobs have either been outsourced or swept away by automation.
Trump kicked things off by upending the nearly complete Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement on Jan. 24, pulling the United States out of the 12-nation pact and forcing everyone else back to the drawing board.
WATCH: Could the Trans-Pacific Partnership provide a backup plan if NAFTA fails?
The decades-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was the next casualty. The Canadian government has since devoted a great deal of time and resources to saving the deal, which Trump has threatened repeatedly to scrap if it can’t be re-negotiated in a way that satisfies him. It’s unclear if it will be enough.
“It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the agreement could be scrapped and you could end up with two separate bilateral agreements, Canada and the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S.,” said Abelson.
“Trump’s primary concern is making sure that he holds onto his base … he still has fairly strong support among the people who propelled him into the White House.”
With the trading relationship between Canada and the U.S. on shaky ground, Ottawa’s efforts to strengthen links with the rest of the world have gone into overdrive.
A historic trade agreement with Europe (CETA) has just come into effect, exploratory talks are underway with China and the ASEAN nations, and the TPP could be resurrected in a new form as early as this week as APEC leaders meet in Vietnam.
Once he finishes at that meeting, International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne will be off to India with a large trade delegation in mid-November.
“What we see happening in the U.S. has convinced a lot of people that if the U.S. is going to be this insane for the next decade perhaps, we really need to start taking this diversification and this push toward Asia more seriously,” said Carlo Dade, director of the Canada West Foundation’s trade and investment centre.
Trump’s hardline stance on immigration has also had serious consequences for Canada.
The administration has indicated, for instance, that it isn’t likely to renew Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for nearly 300,000 Salvadoran, Haitian and Honduran nationals. The status allows citizens of those countries to remain in the U.S. as long as their countries of birth are deemed unsafe.
With their TPS status set to expire in January, Haitians have already headed north, arriving by the thousands at the U.S.-Canada border over the spring and summer. The same could happen for people from the other countries, an intelligence report warned in September, further taxing Canada’s immigration system.
WATCH: Border officials brace for another spike in asylum seekers
Meanwhile, a decision on Nicaragua came on Monday night. As predicted, TPS for its citizens in the U.S. will end in January. El Salvador and Honduras are not expected to be far behind.
“There’s going to be fallout, there has been fallout,” Abelson said. “People who are suffering, and people who are privileged but want to relocate, are going to pursue whatever options they have.”
Security and Defence
Crossing the American border hasn’t become noticeably more difficult for the average Canadian over the past year, but Trump’s policies have sometimes resulted in a great deal of confusion.
One of the president’s earliest moves was the implementation of a controversial travel ban on citizens from several Muslim-majority countries. While seemingly targeting a subset of people living in the Middle East and Africa, Ottawa was left scrambling to try to figure out who, exactly, was being barred.
Canadians who hold dual citizenship in one of the affected countries, for instance, were initially unsure if they would be allowed to enter the U.S., forcing the White House to clarify that they were not subject to the ban.
WATCH: Trump’s revised travel ban targets 8 countries
A few weeks later, there were reports of Canadian citizens and permanent residents having their NEXUS travel cards revoked by U.S. Customs and Immigration.
As Trump worked to harden America’s borders, he also began calling loudly for an increase in Canada’s financial contributions to security efforts abroad — particularly when it comes to NATO.
In June, the Canadian government responded with a plan to boost defence spending by 70 per cent over the next decade, although it still won’t be enough to ensure that 2 per cent of the country’s GDP is spent on the military.
Like with international trade, the Trump era has led Canada to redirect and re-strategize when it comes to the environment.
The president sent a clear signal that stopping climate change would not be a priority when he pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement and promptly scrapped former president Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
WATCH: Trudeau gets round of applause over climate change remark at UN
Undeterred, Canada has forged ahead with its own national carbon-pricing plan and has begun to align itself more closely with other western nations like the United Kingdom (the two countries recently announced joint plans to phase out coal power plants).
Abelson said he expects Canada to stay that course.
“Canadian policy-makers cannot succumb to short-term pressure from Washington,” he said. “They have to stake out their position and work with other partners around the globe … whoever they might be.”
But Trudeau has also shown he is willing to accept some of Trump’s less environmentally friendly decisions, like reviving the Keystone XL pipeline project.
A final, but important shift in Canada-U.S. relations since last November has been on the diplomatic front.
Even before it officially began, Trump’s presidency forced the Trudeau government to improvise when it came time to push its agenda in the U.S.
Rather than making a beeline for the Oval Office, said Abelson, ministers, premiers and the prime minister himself have increasingly been turning to state legislators, congressional committees, and even NGOs.
A prime example came last July, when Trudeau made an unprecedented appearance at a gathering of U.S. governors to tout the benefits of Canada-U.S. trade.
“I think it’s a very wise move for us to try and have feelers out on Capitol Hill, in state legislatures, find out who our allies are,” Abelson noted.
“If you’re not making headway in the White House, you can’t simply bury your head in the sand.”
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