TORONTO – The Canada-U.S. border is unlikely to see any thickening under president-elect Donald Trump despite the Republican’s protectionist campaign rhetoric, former American security czar Tom Ridge said Tuesday.
While Trump’s views on Mexican migrants and Syrian refugees appeared to be sharply at odds with Canada’s approach, Ridge said Canada needs to take a deep breath and wait to see what actually emerges from a Trump administration.
Ridge, appointed as first Homeland Security secretary in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks on the United States, was fiercely critical of the campaigning Trump, denouncing his “bumper-sticker approach” to policy and a bombastic tone that “reflects the traits of a bully.”
Now that the campaign is over, Ridge said he hoped Trump would “substantially alter his approach” to borders.
“There’s always a difference between the political rhetoric and actually the governing posture that he takes,” Ridge told The Canadian Press in an interview.
“There’ll be strong and countervailing influences on some of these issues within the legislative branch as well.”
But one Canadian diplomat, Doug George, consul general to Detroit, wasn’t so sure the road ahead will be smooth.
“Protectionism and anti-trade sentiment have been pervasive throughout the election cycle,” George told a Toronto conference on public private partnerships, where he was a last-minute stand-in for Canada’s ambassador to Washington.
“We do not anticipate this sentiment will wane.”
George cited “Buy American” legislation in the U.S., noting that such provisions are “politically popular.”
Still, Ridge said it’s important to watch who Trump appoints to his cabinet before drawing any conclusions about policy directions.
One thing is certain, he said, Trump won’t be building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico as he famously pledged to do during the campaign.
“Let’s not be so arrogant to think that everybody who crosses our border from the south wants to be a citizen,” Ridge said. “We’re not going to build the wall.”
Either way, he said, Trump’s pronouncements have tended to be about the border with Mexico, not with Canada. He also suggested the U.S.’s northern border could be a model for Trump.
Any thickening of the northern border in particular would be a “huge mistake” given the critical relationship Canada and the United States have, he said.
“If you want to look at a relationship that has proven to be very sensitive to the needs of both countries, and the culture of both countries, take a look at the Canada-U.S. border.”
One piece of advice he would offer the incoming president is to make Canada the destination for his first foreign visit. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already extended an invitation.
“There’s a very unique and very special relationship and I would hope at the very outset that he recognizes that with his first foreign trip,” Ridge said. “That would be very important for both countries.”
Trump might also want to dust off and revive the “smart border accord” he and former deputy prime minister John Manley forged years ago, Ridge said.
The former governor, who now runs a cybersecurity company, was in Toronto for the conference at which he warned of the increasing threat to critical public and private infrastructure posed by hackers from foreign states such as China as well as from organized crime.