Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. The day after Donald Trump has been re-elected as President of the United States.
People across the country are stunned. Democrats thought they had this one. They are depressed and angry. The United States is – still – a country divided and now the stresses of that division have been exacerbated. Whatever damage was done in the first term may now be permanent.
The first Trump victory was deemed an aberration, but with re-election, America is now a very different place.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman painted this time-traveling reality as part of Western Law’s annual Canada-U.S. Law Institute Lecture series Tuesday afternoon. Yet, he cautioned, it is an entirely possible scenario.
“We can just imagine how a Trump re-election would impact the climate, environment, commerce, energy, military intelligence, homeland security, international affairs – the list can go on,” said Heyman, who served as ambassador under President Barack Obama from 2014-17.
“Most presidents running for re-election over the last 100 years have won. Those who aren’t re-elected have been due to weak economies and I’m not rooting for that. All things being equal, which they never really area, a Trump re-election is a distinct possibility.”
What does that mean for U.S.-Canada relations? Heyman feels it’s hard to say.
The current relationship between the two neighbours is, generally, solid – particularly in comparison with the relationships the United States has with other nations, including many allies.
“There are many questions – and not a lot of answers. Canadians need to prepare because there is a distinct possibility that this could happen,” Heyman said of re-election. “Like fire drills in an office tower, we don’t believe a fire is coming, but if it does, I sure want to know what the plans are and where the exit is.”
In the event of a Trump re-election, the U.S.-Canada relationship is sure to be tested. With the re-negotiated NAFTA deal still not done, what happens if Trump chooses to withdraw? What if he dials up trade wars and tariffs?
What can Canada do to prepare itself? There may be more questions than answers.
“Canadian businesses should game out these scenarios now and build in contingencies for both tariffs on non-Canadian goods and new tariffs on Canadian goods,” Heyman said. “Canada has a unique opportunity to go on offence. You have several large trade agreements already in place with Europe, with Asia. Canada may be better positioned on international trade, given Trump’s behaviours on trade and tariffs, than the United States.”
Issues around energy and the environment would also likely worsen with a second term, he continued.
“In a world where virtually all the scientists and millions of people recognize climate change is real, the U.S. federal standards continue to get weakened and potentially put Canada in a very uncomfortable position,” Heyman said.
“How do you handle future requests from the U.S? What if they challenge your values, but line your pocket book? How will you confront social injustice when the cost of doing so continues to rise?” questioned Heyman, noting the world is losing its defenders of liberal democratic order.
“Expect free speech to continue to be under attack, under the guise of ‘fake media,’ which could easily turn into ‘fake everything,’ especially if Trump doesn’t like the narrative.”
Heyman, a former senior Goldman Sachs executive, was followed to the ambassador post by Trump nominee Kelly Craft, later named U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Trump has since appointed Aldona Wos, a Republican donor from North Carolina, to replace Craft. She awaits U.S. Senate confirmation as Canada’s next ambassador.
While the United States and Canada are far from being ‘on the outs,’ Heyman expects continued disagreements because the U.S. government does not always play by the same rules. Despite the existence of rules of engagement – even laws – when one party doesn’t respect those standards, nor believes the laws pertain to them, you have a breakdown in trust.
“This has happened between the Trump Administration and institutions at home and abroad,” Heyman said. “In a second term of Trump, relationships will be further tested. And Canada, your relationship will be tested, as well. You’ll need to navigate very carefully, and very creatively, in a world like that. How you do this may be one of your biggest challenges.
“Do I think Donald Trump is getting re-elected? Well, I didn’t think he’d win in the first place. So I’m making no assumptions here. I’m saying anything is possible. Don’t be complacent, prepare for the next Trump Administration and the world it might create. It’s a reality check.”