In The Media

What President Donald Trump will mean for Canada

by Monique Scotti (feat. Colin Robertson)

Global News
November 9, 2016

The American electorate has spoken, selecting Donald Trump as their next president.

As the shock waves from Tuesday night’s stunning upset victory reverberate south of the border, Canadian officials are likely already bracing for a very bumpy ride.

Experts who spoke with Global News last week about what a Trump presidency would mean for Canada agreed on one point: it’s not going to be business as usual.

Here’s a look at what we might expect from Trump in several key policy areas.


The business mogul-turned political leader has made it clear he will not be the most climate-friendly president ever to take up residence in the White House.

Trump once called climate change a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese, and his promises to pull out of the Paris climate-change agreement and to back coal at the expense of greener energy have environmentalists very worried.

“Regulations that shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants and block the construction of new ones — how stupid is that?” he said during the campaign.

Catherine Potvin, a biology professor and climate change expert at McGill University, said her biggest worry is that Trump will reverse many of the green initiatives launched under President Barack Obama, and that it will have a direct impact on Canada.

“Because the Congress is largely Republican, I think it’s pretty bad news for the climate,” she said.

But businesses (both Canadian and American) are increasingly benefiting from the transition to a low-carbon economy, she added, and the world is moving toward that future with or without American support.

“Under President Trump, I would say it’s going be the businesses that will be driving the transition, and it’s going to be more costly for them because they will not be able to take advantage of government regulation or subsidies.”

But having the U.S. pull out of the Paris agreement at this stage would be catastrophic, according to Debra Steger, a professor and former Canadian negotiator at the World Trade Organization. Not least because the Trudeau government has worked so hard to trumpet it.

“It would be a devastating blow” for Canada, she said.

As for a unified North American agreement on carbon pricing, Canadians shouldn’t hold their breath.

One small patch of common ground might be the Keystone XL pipeline project, however, which Obama recently rejected. Trump has said he’ll approve the pipeline, effectively reversing that decision, but only if America gets a chunk of the profits.

Security and defence

Canada can expect pressure from the White House to increase dramatically under Trump when it comes to international security efforts, said Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“Whether it’s Trump or Clinton, I think they’ll both push us to spend more on defence.” Robertson predicted.

“Right now we don’t meet the NATO standard of (defence spending) commitment by 2020 of two per cent of (Gross Domestic Product).”

America is devoting a full four per cent of its GDP to defence, something that Robertson said probably isn’t sustainable. Canada is sitting at the bottom of the list of the biggest spenders, he noted.

While Clinton may have been more diplomatic, Trump will demand more spending “in a kind of forceful fashion.”

“Almost, ‘If you don’t pay your dues we’re not going to defend you.’” he said.

“And that has importance obviously for NORAD, which is the bilateral defence agreement we have with the United States, but also in the case of NATO.”

When it comes to the fight against the so-called Islamic State, Trump has promised to “pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS, international cooperation to cutoff (sic) their funding, expand intelligence sharing, and cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable their propaganda and recruiting.”

READ MORE: Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy plan could trigger World War 3

All of these pledges could mean major pressure on Canada to increase troops and other security resources, as well as renewed pressure from the United States to resume the bombing mission halted by the Liberal government last winter.

Economics and trade

It’s this policy area that has many analysts most concerned.

Trump is blatantly protectionist, which runs contrary to Ottawa’s pro-trade stance under Trudeau. Among other things, the new president has pledged to pull the U.S. out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

He has also promised to drastically increase tariffs on Chinese goods making their way to America.

“(Canada) wouldn’t be the first target,” Robertson said. “But the danger there is that we become collateral damage because we have so much trade with the United States.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is almost guaranteed to be consigned to the scrap heap.

“It is highly improbable with Mr. Trump that the TPP would go anywhere, which means we would have to then think about negotiating separate deals with first Japan, and perhaps talking to Mexico,” Robertson said.

Pulling out of NAFTA, meanwhile, would have a very real and significant effect on the Canadian economy. The United States is our largest trading partner, and Steger pointed out that Trump “hasn’t even bothered to ask Prime Minister Trudeau whether he’s willing to renegotiate.”

Steger, an expert in international trade, also questioned the legality of many of Trump’s proposals on trade, noting that they may contravene World Trade Organization regulations.

“What’s he going to do, withdraw from the WTO?” she said.

“This just demonstrates to you the absurdity of some of his positions. It’s just unthinkable for the U.S. to begin to flagrantly violating WTO rules and yet most of the so-called policies that he advocates … you simply can’t do.”

International relations

As much as Trump seems ignorant of how international trade works, Steger said, he seems even less informed about international diplomacy. That could spell big trouble for Canada as it seeks to present a united front with America on issues like Russian aggression in Ukraine, or the ongoing conflict in Syria.

“(Trump will) be a very different kind of person to deal with, and this cuts across all foreign policy issues,” Steger said.

“Basically he doesn’t understand how international relations work, when it comes down to it.”

According to former diplomat Robertson, presidents and prime ministers normally focus heavily on international affairs when they meet, and that may hold true for Trump and Trudeau in spite of their differences.

“(The Americans) are genuinely interested in what we can bring to the table from our diplomatic service abroad, what we pick up in talking to other leaders,” he said.

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