Many Canadians have watched this year’s U.S. presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump with interest. It’ll likely be a few days, weeks or months until we know who the next occupant of the White House will be.
More than 100 million Americans have reportedly used either mail-in ballots or early in-person voting due to concerns related to COVID-19. This total accounts for more than 77 percent of all votes tabulated during the 2016 presidential election. Hence, it’s going to take a while for each state to sort everything out.
There will undoubtedly be a slew of legal challenges by the losing side with respect to voting methods, allegations of electoral fraud, and other sundry items. These challenges could happen on a state-by-state basis, a regional basis – or both.
In the event of a close election, the U.S. Supreme Court may have to get involved. It’s not something the nine justices would want to engage in. This branch of government’s ruling on the 2000 presidential election and “hanging chad” controversy remains a sore spot in some circles of interest. But if they have to, they will.
Canadians, like others around the world, will wait patiently for the final results. The U.S. has historically been our most important friend, ally and trading partner. (Other than that little skirmish known as the War of 1812!) Political and economic relations between our two countries are also of the utmost importance, especially for the Great White North.
Trump, the current President, has been an imperfect ally.
Although far from being a traditional or modern Republican, he certainly respects some conservative principles such as the need for capitalism, private enterprise, deregulation and greater access to the free market economy. He wants to work with Canada on trade, border safety and security, illegal immigration, and other issues. While America First policies are his first and foremost interest, he understands the need to ensure the lines of communication with western democracies like Canada are maintained.
The problem is Trump’s preferred leadership style often rests on the thin edge of the wedge. He doesn’t mind taking the occasional gamble, or a few liberties, when it comes to trade negotiations (ie. the old NAFTA and new USMCA). He can change position multiple times on the same issue, based on something he’s heard or doesn’t like during the negotiation process or in public/private conversations. He’s used the threat of tariffs as a short-term bargaining tool with several nations and regions, and has implemented them on Canadian steel and aluminum products.
Yes, things eventually get done with Trump. Some of them have been quite good. The process of moving from A to B is often fraught with difficulties, and more than a few hiccups at every stage along the way. If he’s re-elected, it’s hard to see how the relationship between our two countries will be any different.
Biden, who’s been leading in the polls for a few months, will certainly be an easier ally for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take, speak to, and work with. Nevertheless, the fact that both leaders have left-of-centre views and values doesn’t mean it’s going to make life any easier for Canada-U.S. relations. If anything, it could become much worse.
For instance, the Democratic Party that Biden represents is teeming with far-left radicals and progressives in the Senate and House of Representatives. There will definitely be more of them after election day. This doesn’t mean the GOP is a shining beacon of light, but the problems it faces are far less concerning in the interim. (Unless you subscribe to the mistaken belief that “Trumpism” has taken over the party.) Biden will therefore have to constantly push back against left-wing Democratic forces who would prefer to increase taxes, enhance the size of government, restrict private enterprise and crush trade liberalization, among other things. Is he strong enough to do this, and will he have enough political allies to support him?
Trade relations with Canada could potentially turn into a huge issue. While it’s unlikely Biden will push back against certain principles in Trump’s USMCA, the nationalist, anti-free trade contingent within his party will be licking their chops. They may want to reduce access to certain markets, curb the flow of goods and services, and establish everything from nonsensical environmental restrictions to a U.S.-style supply management model.
Other issues of concern during a Biden presidency could include: a weaker response to illegal immigration, re-enacting DACA or a similar program, relaxing border security, supporting new restrictions for Canadians wanting to do business in the U.S. – and, believe it or not, instituting his own series of tariffs.
None of these concerns may materialize, I readily admit. But the socialistic nature of younger Democratic politicians, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and other members of “The Squad,” is growing rather than receding in the U.S. political arena. So, the possibility looms large.
It goes without saying Canada-U.S. relations will be handled differently with a President Biden or President Trump in power. Whether the political winds shift left or right is the question that can’t be formally answered just yet.
Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.
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