Canada shocked, has to adjust to work with Trump

Canada shocked, has to adjust to work with Trump

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan

Mohammed Azhar Ali KhanMohammed Azhar Ali Khan

Canadians, like millions around the world, followed the US presidential election with disbelief, with two flawed and unpopular candidates vying for the world’s most powerful office. True, Canada briefly had a mayor of Toronto who was unsavory, but Rob Ford did not last long.

However, Canadians have never witnessed the sort of election the US has just had. They found Donald Trump to be such a liar - and with other vices - that they could not imagine anyone voting for him to be president.

“Uninterrupted madman running loose. Donald Trump redefines unmitigated craziness,” said one headline. Canadians felt certain that Hillary Clinton, despite her own flaws, including mismanaging important e-mails and a hawkish foreign policy, would be the winner for it seemed inconceivable that Americans would jeopardize their country’s future by electing a person with no knowledge, character and constructive platform.

The Canadian government maintained that it would work with whoever became the president.

This is not always easy. Former prime minister Stephen Harper did not get along with President Barack Obama. It was left to Justin Trudeau, on becoming prime minister, to develop a friendly relationship with Obama.
Trudeau might have difficulty building a similar rapport with Trump - the two differ totally in their personalities, character, policies and vision.

But Canada is the US’s largest trading partner and, along with Mexico, its closest neighbor. Canada enjoys the friendliest relations with the US.
Their trade every day runs into millions of dollars. Canadians and Americans cross the border with ease every day by the thousands. They are similar in language, culture, sports, defense and other policies and in other ways. Both are governed by the rule of law, respect for human rights, an independent judiciary, an outspoken media and elected leaders with checks and balances. The US, however, has a presidential system of government while Canada follows the British parliamentary system. Still, the two countries are like family.

But Canada is a country of some 35 million people and the US is eight times larger. The US has deep entanglements in other countries while Canada supports the United Nations and pushes for peace and security in the world - except for a brief period under Harper when it forsook the United Nations and abandoned its principled foreign policy.

The late prime minister Pierre Trudeau compared Canada’s relationship with the US as sleeping with an elephant. It’s true that the United States once invaded Canada and expected to win easily. But it got beaten back. Since then their relations have been exemplary. (India and Pakistan, please take note.) Sometimes the two differ sharply - as when prime minister John Diefenbaker criticized the US war in Vietnam and was sternly rebuked. Or when prime minister Jean Chretien rejected President George Bush’s request to join the US in attacking Iraq. But despite these sharp divergences in policy, the two remain the best of neighbors.

Elections in Canada or the US do not change that. However, Trump said during his campaign that he will renegotiate NAFTA - the free trade agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico. He pledged to build a wall on the Mexican border at Mexico’s expense, crack down on China and alter its trading relationship to the US’s advantage, force American allies to pay more for getting US protection, ban the entry of Muslims to the US, prevent illegal immigrants, whom he described as rapists and criminals, from entering the US and bar refugees from the US to curb a possible terror threat. He also sees climate change as a hoax.

Canada and the US are working together to fight the Daesh (self-proclaimed IS) terror group. But most of the proposed Trump policies are the very opposite of those of Canada. However, since Trump’s winning the election was seen as a remote possibility, Canadians did not take his threat to renegotiate the free trade agreement seriously. Now his stunning victory will force Canada to prepare policies to defend its interests.

Canada is much smaller than the US and far more dependent on trading with its neighbor than the US is on Canada. But there is a long record of Canada and the US working together because it benefits millions of Americans and Canadians. It is not going to be easy for any president to change that - especially if that president also faces considerable opposition at home and has also challenged other trading partners and allies.

Still, as Trump has shown, you ignore him at your own peril. He mesmerized millions of Americans by repeating that the US is losing jobs and its status as a great power and that only he can bring back those jobs through new tax policies and that he will restore the US to its former greatness.
This won’t be easy given the globalization, technological achievements and the rise of powers such as China, India, Brazil, Korea and others. But the message resonated with millions of Americans. Now Canada has to be ready to defend its interests and protect itself from its closest neighbor, ally and friend.

— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.