Enjoy it while it lasts: Why America’s love for Canada may be doomed

Free trade is good for the economy. But not according to the tortured logic found in the U.S. election so far.

President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin shake hands following the conclusion of their joint news conference, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin shake hands following the conclusion of their joint news conference, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Enjoy it while you can, Canada. When it comes to relations with our closest neighbour and most important trading partner, it’s all downhill from here.

Last week’s official visit by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Washington became a media sensation as the American press discovered Canada’s photogenic first family. President Barack Obama was in fine form as host, riffing on everything from Trudeau’s copacetic political outlook to the Canadian habit of buying milk in plastic bags. He also announced the long-standing Canada-U.S. softwood trade dispute will be settled in “the coming weeks and months.”

It may be a long time before Canadians again enjoy such camaraderie and reassurance from the White House.

Related: Paul Wells on Trudeau’s lobby day in Washington

As the interminable Republican and Democrat primary campaigns enter their final stages, it’s becoming depressingly clear the next president will share little of Obama’s interest in Canada or the beneficial aspects of free trade.

While the promotion of trade was once Republican boilerplate, frontrunner Donald Trump repeatedly describes America’s international trade experience in terms of deliberate violence: his country is “getting killed” or “absolutely crushed” by trade. From Trump’s blustery perspective, the North American Free Trade Agreement is a “disaster” and trade with China “the greatest theft in the history of the world.” He’s even threatened to impose a trade-annihilating 45 per cent tariff on Chinese goods. Sen. Ted Cruz, running second to Trump, has lately adopted a similarly hostile stance.

Over on the Democrat side, insurgent candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders boasts he’s never supported a free trade deal during his many decades in the House of Representatives and Senate. Hillary Clinton, who enjoys a substantial lead in the Democratic primary, once described the important Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal involving 12 Pacific Rim countries, including Canada, as “the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade” when she was Obama’s secretary of state. Since she’s been running for president, however, she’s repudiated any past fondness for free trade. “I can’t support this deal,” she said in October. While such a reversal solidifies her reputation as someone who’ll say anything to get elected, it also means the top two candidates in both parties are opposed to the TPP, and free trade in general.

There was a time when America aggressively promoted free trade as a form of non-military global intervention. Raising incomes around the world by encouraging economic intercourse with the massive American marketplace was considered cheaper and less dangerous than sending troops abroad to defend capitalism and democracy. However, many years of mediocre domestic growth have soured the American public on such Yankee idealism. Trump and Sanders have tapped into the “angry white male” voting cohort that blames free trade for their economic lassitude and figures—entirely incorrectly—that curtailing trade will improve their prospects. To keep pace, all major candidates have now accepted this tortured logic.

Optimists may argue the mercantilist fervour currently animating American politics poses no direct threat to Canadian interests. Trump’s rhetorical violence is directed at low-wage countries such as China; Canada is unlikely to face a 45 per cent tariff, and our massive cross-border business should continue unabated. By the same token, Clinton’s duplicitous turnabout on trade could be mere pandering—to be reversed once more if she wins the November election. Even if both scenarios are correct, however, the outlook for Canadian trade remains grim. Without a strong and consistent American commitment on the TPP, this deal—meant as counterweight to China’s growing economic and political power in Asia—will die an ignominious death. Trump’s plans to punish low-cost competitors with massive tariffs will inevitably result in retaliatory tariffs from other countries, and a collapse in future free trade initiatives. It’s hard enough to build momentum for lowering trade barriers without the world’s largest economy undermining the process.

Related: What would a Trump presidency look like?

The long-standing problem with selling the concept of free trade to voters is that it involves uneven costs, benefits and timelines that are difficult to sort out. It took decades for the full impact of the 1987 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement to be fully appreciated. Only in 2004 did University of Toronto research clearly show that while 100,000 jobs disappeared in the manufacturing industry in the short run, over the long haul, productivity improved by 15 per cent in sectors that lost their tariff protection, overall employment grew nationwide and consumer prices fell. In the final regard, the outcome was hugely positive for Canada.

Unfortunately, economic subtlety and long-term vision are entirely absent in U.S. political discourse today. Trade is the unquestioned villain of the 2016 election. Walls are more fashionable than ports and bridges. And champions of economic common sense are nowhere to be seen. Canadians should brace themselves for bleak tidings following November’s presidential election. The party’s over.


Enjoy it while it lasts: Why America’s love for Canada may be doomed

  1. I agree with a lot of this article but disagree on some points.
    First and foremost Obama has not been a great friend of Canada. Some blame it on his dislike of the right wing Stephen Harper but I don’t see any issue that Stephen hasn’t been to the left of Obama on. Even on the oil and energy file. Obama will be remembered as leading the greatest resurgence in American drilling and reserve increases in 50 years.
    Democrats are traditionally protectionist and Obama is no exception. As an aside it seems criminally stupid to be cozying up to a lame duck president regardless of his political stripe.

    So far the only candidate I have heard say anything positive about Canada is Trump. He wants a better deal for Keystone XL but supports it and he says a wall on the Canadian border is not needed.
    He will probably be the best option for Canada.

    • First, re “it seems criminally stupid to be cozying up to a lame duck president” – Obama invited Trudeau. Regardless whether he is a “lame duck” or not, what would be criminally stupid would be to say “Thanks, but no thanks” to the first invitation in almost two decades. If word of that slap hit the US media, we would be a long time recovering.

      Second, as to Trump: Based on his rhetoric, the man will be a complete disaster for not just Canada, but the world. We’ll be lucky to survive his presidency – and I mean that literally. With the threats he’s already making, who knows what that idiot would do once he got his hands on the launch codes?

      • Who cares if Trudeau appears to cozy up to Obama as long as he knows Obama is in it for the US and only wants to screw Canada over and thinks Trudeau is an easy target. It is hilarious that Kerry took everyone aside and told them there would be no pipelines because they weren’t necessary. Of course not. The US is the biggest producer of oil and will be selling it now. They want the pipelines going the other direction. It was no mistake that Obama never agreed to any climate change numbers. He had no intention of doing so even though he was able to use his presidential powers on gun control and to rid himself of Keystone. Next he will be selling Quebec natural gas from Pensylvania. He will sell Canada cement and he will never charge his country a carbon tax. If Trudeau is a true global climate change advocate, then charge all incoming high emitters a carbon tax. Keep it competitive for Canadians and do the world some good. Show all those people in Paris you really are a lead er in climate change and show our American neighbours that if they aren’t going to walk the talk, we will. Call the bluff and let’s see what Robert Redford, Leonardia DiCaprio, Obama and Quebec have to say about that. Meanwhile, Canada needs to buy Canadian. Buy French’s ketchup. Encourage wooden building. Tax incoming oil just like your taxing Canadian oil. If those countries don’t want to do it, we will. Let’s be a leader and an innovator. I’ll bet those Americans will get friendly when they want our fresh water. Let’s work on projects like energy efficient desolation. Bill Nye says that is the future.

  2. Whatever the policies of the Merovingians in Washington, the rest of us Yanks will always love Canada.

    • And we Canadians love you guys….group hug?

    • Obama ran on scrapping NAFTA. It is a huge legal quagmire and it isn’t easy to dump like they pretend. They can’t even label where beef comes from or RCALF in Montana would do it, pretending that the industries are to intertwined that they are impossible to differentiate. Obama pretends to be a climate change advocate while in sells his coal to China and becomes the leading producer of oil in the world. Meanwhile, he pressures one of his biggest competitors to shut down operations and set strict climate change emission standards, something he refuses to do. He claims the GOP won’t let him but he uses his presidential powers to set gun control laws…hmm…sounds like BS to me.

  3. “It’s downhill from here”…well said even if MacLean’s sees the glass half empty.
    The Obama/Trudeau honeymoon is just that. Later this year be it Trump, Clinton or any other that honeymoon will turn into tough trade negotiations.
    I believe Canada’s proximity and history to the US will give us some exemptions that other countries won’t receive but there will be some pain in trade due to the fact that the majority of Americans see that they have not benefited and all the candidates agree to some degree on this issue.
    I believe Mr. Trudeau should forget about the UN initiatives he is now so entwined in and make major efforts in solidifying more trade and deals with the US until the end of 2016. Get them in place Mr. Trudeau; our whole economy sorely needs it!

  4. The Canadian media keeps on this issue as though Obama is entirely blameless in how low our relationship with the USA has fallen. He’s notoriously prickly with anyone whom he THINKS might disagree with him, thus his warmth towards Trudeau who openly admires Obozo. Canada has bent over backwards for the Obama admin, under Harper, only to be shown the back of his hand.
    As for Trump, if you are a taxpaying American voter, who other than Trump are you going to vote for? The socialist Sanders, who envisions a Moscow on the Mississippi? The serial liar Hillary, who is the personification of The Manchurian Candidate’s Eleanor Shaw? Another Republican, who refuses to commit to reigning in the EPA, the IRS, or even simply making any effort to enforce Article 4 of the United States Constitution?
    That leaves you with Trump. It is the Republican establishment who has most betrayed the American public, by twiddling their thumbs as the Democrats have worked diligently to make the United States government the single largest enemy of the American people.
    Consider Trump to be a warning to Canadian Conservatives. If you’re not prepared to shrink government, and decrease the scope and reach of government’s interference in our lives, prepare to be consigned to the trash bin while we elect those who will get in the way of big government.

  5. TPP, CETA & the other Global Corporate treaties/’arrangements’; Suing the Global Corporate Economy via ‘your’ government.
    Japan; ‘The Submission’ to The Supreme Court of Canada paves the way for Expanding & Improving the basis of the Yamada led ‘Sword & Shield’ Counter attack Suit against the Japanese gov’t, et al.
    TPP & otherGlobal Corporate Treaties/’Arrangements’ signatory gov’ts. in Conflict of Interest.

    TPP, et al, Just in Time to protect carcinogenic ‘Round Up’ & other Toxic products & Foods; the Future of ‘Legal’ Poisoning of harmless Customers starts NOW. Taxes Cut as Gov’ts pass Lawsuit Costs to harmless citizens?

    (CAN.) – The TPP & the other global corporate treaties/’arrangements’ provides that the signatory governments will no longer be able to sue corporations for not adhering to the laws of their host countries & thereby, replace the desire of American led corporations for tort reform with tort abolishment, but, the TPP will also place the signatory governments in positions of a conflict of interest in regard to their own harmless citizens who are being forced to find their own, non-governmental means of enforcing existing & future laws that have been passed by way of:

    1) the secrecy of unethical lobbyists for the benefits of their wealthy corporation clients & their shareholders,
    2) the ethical desire to compete with other countries by passing laws that protect & enhance the well-being of its citizens regarding their health care, education, worker safety, environment, transfer payments, etc.

    However, it seems that it is only recently that the harmless citizens of Japan & other nations are learning that due to Corporate Canada’s, &/or, the government of Canada’s anxious desire to impress its TPP corporate associates, &/or, the citizens of Japan, et al, with:

    1) its unencumbered access to the natural resources that are continuing to be discovered in Canada,
    2) its ability to ‘manage’ Native Canadians in regard to accessing the aforementioned natural resources in Canada
    3) et al,
    Corporate Canada, &/or, the Canadian government has misinformed its corporate associates & deprived its corporate associates of due diligence information (eg. the Canadian government,et al, is continuing to deprive Native Canadians, et al, of the information & questions in The W.A.D. Accord), which will greatly affect the costs of developing the aforementioned natural resources, and thus, as a consequence of Corporate Canada’s, &/or, the Canadian government’s actions it has given the harmless citizens of Japan, et al, the basis for:

    1) not only, suing Corporate Canada, &/or, the government of Canada, via the Canadian government,
    but, for :
    2) also expanding & improving upon Mr. Yamada’s existing suit against the Japanese government, &/or, Corporate Japan, et al, as well.

    And, thus, Corporate Canada, via their lobbyists to the Canadian government, are most anxious to escape from their liabilities by a rapid ratification of the TPP, et al.

    Therefore, the Japanese group, led by Mr. Masahiko Yamada, who are suing their government regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership on behalf of themselves & the citizens of Japan, might seriously consider suing Corporate Canada, in order to ensure that they, the harmless citizens, do not end up having to ‘contribute’ any of their tax dollars to pay for The Compensation in The W.A.D. Accord, et al, & thereby, prevent
    Corporate Canada from escaping its liabilities by way of the ratification of the TPP, et al.

    Furthermore, by suing Corporate Canada &/or, the government of Canada, by Mr. Yamada’s group, would enable the harmless citizens of Japan as a ‘sword’ & a ‘shield’ to prevent the government of Japan from using any of tax dollars of the harmless citizens of Japan to further punish the harmless citizens, ie. the ‘shield’ & to provide the monies necessary from the punitive damages, on an on-going basis, to continue to fight the future capricious forays & assaults against the harmless citizens’ democracy and counteract the damages to it, etc. caused by Corporate Japan, the government of Japan, et al, ie. the ‘sword’…
    Full Article, see; davidehsmith.wordpress.com
    Please consider sharing the above info & questions with 10 friends who share with 10 friends & so on…

Sign in to comment.