Canada’s Role in a New World

Last night’s surprise results in the American election have left many (even most) people stunned, but now is not the time to stand still with our mouths hanging open. Canada needs to be ready to respond to the changes Mr. Trump promises to deliver, and take on new roles in the international community. I’d like to start by appreciating Prime Minister Trudeau’s congratulatory message to Mr. Trump, and that the first directive of the Minister of International Affairs, Stephane Dion, is to improve relations with America: as our closest neighbour and largest trading partner, our relationship with America is important not only for ongoing peace, security, and prosperity, but also as a model of good relations between neighbours that we’d like to see emulated in other parts of the world. But how can we relate to America, and the world, in light of Mr. Trump’s agenda?

We can be forgiven for not being particularly aware of Mr. Trump’s platform: the campaign was almost entirely about his character, and his rhetoric often far exceeded what was actually written in his platform. But by comparing that platform with Prime Minister Trudeau’s ministerial mandate letter for Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, we can see that Mr. Dion’s job may have just become much more difficult. Let’s look at Canada’s priorities for foreign affairs, as outlined in the ministerial mandate letter, and see how they could soon be affected by Mr. Trump’s policies.

  1. US/Canada Relations
  • Improve relations with the United States, our closest ally and most important economic and security partner, and strengthen trilateral North American cooperation with the United States and Mexico. This would include working with the relevant Ministers to:

    • work with the United States to make substantial progress on reducing impediments to trade and commerce between our countries, including by improving border infrastructure and security, streamlining cargo inspection, and facilitating the movement of people. This should include increased engagement with provinces on border and regulatory issues;

    • work with relevant ministers, including the Ministers of International Trade and Environment and Climate Change, to prepare for the North American Leaders Summit in Canada;

    • develop a North American clean energy and environment agreement; and

    • support the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship in lifting the Mexican visa requirement.

The goal of improving trade between Canada and the US seems to be in trouble, given that Mr. Trump’s trade priorities include pulling out of the TPP and NAFTA, our two largest trade agreements. So long as these agreements are replaced by new agreements that ensure economic growth while also including ambitious environmental standards and transparent legal processes, this could actually be a good thing for Canada. But Mr. Trump’s reasoning seems to be entirely concerned with getting “a better deal” for American workers and launching lawsuits for any violations of the trade deals, which is ironic considering the US has benefited the most and been sued the least of any of the three partners of NAFTA (Canada has been sued the most). Trade is not a zero-sum game, but it does take compromise, and if Mr. Trump is looking for an even better deal than the US already has, it is unlikely that such a deal will be a net benefit to Canadian industry and workers. So I’m hopeful that this could turn in a good direction, but not based on what Mr. Trump is actually saying. Canada should seize any opportunity Mr. Trump provides to renegotiate these deals, but should not compromise our economic or environmental interests – or our sovereignty – in the process.

The goal of moving people more freely across the Canada/US border is also unlikely, given Mr. Trump’s campaign initially hinged on his plan to build a border wall with Mexico – a plan that some Republicans suggested should happen along the Canadian border as well. While Mr. Trump insists he isn’t interested in a border wall separating the US from Canada, his views about immigration and security are not exactly welcoming. I don’t expect security to decrease at US border crossings anytime soon. Canada should stay the course, allowing for easier movement of people and goods through our borders even if the US doesn’t.

Developing a North American clean energy and environment agreement will be almost impossible, given Mr. Trump’s energy platform, which includes “declar[ing] American energy dominance”, removing “all job-destroying Obama executive actions” (which can only be taken to mean environmental protections), promote fracked natural gas and coal, and only pays a hint of lip service to environmental responsibility – with even that lip service being in the promotion of “clean” coal and the implication that fracked gas is somehow low-emissions (it is not). This energy platform is diametrically opposed to environmental protection or emissions reduction, which is unsurprising given that Mr. Trump once tweeted that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese to make American businesses noncompetitive. (He may be surprised to learn that the Chinese believe in climate change, and are doing far more to address it than he proposes to.)

Lifting the Mexican visa requirement: while it does not depend on the cooperation of the US, it will take on a whole new dimension as Mr. Trump carries through on promises to deport undocumented Mexican immigrants, cancelling Obama’s amnesties. Canada should take this opportunity to welcome these people, not just as visitors or foreign workers, but as immigrants from America.

2. War and Peace

“Ensure a close link between defence policy, foreign policy, and national security” … “working with the Minister of National Defence, to increase Canada’s support for United Nations peace operations and its mediation, conflict-prevention, and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.”

For the past generation (or two), American foreign policy has been delivered largely through their military. With a massive military, the most advanced weaponry, and 38 bases scattered around the world (not including the ones in American territory), America has used its “might” to not only attempt to promote peace (by the threat of violence), but also to promote favourable economic conditions (e.g., establishing close ties with oil-producing nations like Kuwait), topple regimes (e.g., Vietnam, Iran, Iraq), suppress ideologies (e.g., Communism, Islam), and promote democracy. The US has increasingly relied on its NATO allies to grant greater legitimacy to those missions.

Now, Mr. Trump proposes radical changes. First, he proposes a new budget to “rebuild our depleted military,” and increase the size of the military in every way. Considering that it is still one of the largest per capita in the world, and already costs American taxpayers well over $500,000,000,000 annually (not counting much of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were funded through other emergency appropriation bills), this makes me a little nervous. You don’t put out that kind of money to have the military sit around and play cards; increasing the size and capabilities of the military is a precursor to war.

Second, almost the entire foreign policy section of Mr. Trump’s platform is about fighting ISIS, and the section begins with the words “peace through strength.” It is clear that Mr. Trump’s plan to bring about peace in the world is through deterrence and show of force, and this is backed up by some of his more controversial statements outside of the platform. For example, he advocates for the use of torture and says he will try to “broaden” laws to allow for torture. He advocates targeting the families of terrorists – i.e., killing them. And he’s extremely ambivalent about using nuclear weapons, saying “I won’t take any of my cards off the table.”

Third, he is ambivalent toward NATO. He says he wants America’s NATO allies to pay for American military bases in their territory, and would end the strategies of regime change and nation building – approaches that were more palatable and defensible to America’s NATO allies.

The combination of these things suggests a future in which America has a larger military under a leader who wants to establish peace by enforcing a major threat (perhaps even nuclear) to anyone who would challenge them, and with less connection to the international community. It might be overstating the situation to say that this is a recipe for the US to go rogue, but it is not overstating the situation to say that Mr. Trump is more concerned about military swagger than his predecessors.

Canada needs to exercise increased leadership in foreign relations, and specifically in promoting peace. To do so may require reducing our commitments to NATO, if the US continues to direct its missions; or increasing our leadership in NATO if the US reduces their involvement, in either case with the goal of taking strategic action to avoid warfare. Along those lines, our existing goal of working more closely with the United Nations is excellent, and should take priority over involvement in NATO missions.

3. Promoting Pluralism

“Working with the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, to champion the values of inclusive and accountable governance, peaceful pluralism and respect for diversity, and human rights including the rights of women and refugees.”

One of Mr. Trump’s first actions as President will be to tighten vetting protocols for all immigrants and refugees into the United States, including a “values” screening of the sort Kellie Leitch has proposed for Canada. This suggests that the United States will leave a vacuum in the international community, not only by accepting fewer refugees (because by Mr. Trump’s standards most Muslims would probably have a very difficult time being accepted, and most of the refugees in the world today come from Muslim-majority countries), but also by the absence of their support for true diversity, pluralism, and human rights.

Canada is well-suited to fill this vacuum. We are already gearing up for higher levels of immigration, and our proximity and historic ties to both the US and UK position us as a character foil, dumping water on the flames of xenophobic populism that have come to define the Brexit and Trump campaigns. If those attitudes persist in the UK and US beyond this turbulent year, that gives Canada all the more reason to embrace outsiders. We so often hear that “the world needs more Canada” – this is the moment to prove it.

There are undoubtedly many more implications of a Trump presidency, and I’m sure that Mr. Dion and Mr. Trudeau did not wait until today to consider them. I implore them to not wait to act, either; to not be afraid to act unilaterally, taking the lead on important issues; and to be bold and ambitious in the way that they show Canada’s love to the world.

And be classy doing it.
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