Michael Den Tandt: Here are five ways Canada could benefit from a Trump presidency

The imminent accession of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States and de facto leadership of the free world, judging from online chatter, has several Democrat-leaning Canadians in an ornery (read terrified) mood. The President-elect’s daily tweetblasts, it is fair to say, have contributed to this unease.

But there are, just maybe, ways in which Canadians may benefit from Trump’s presidency. Since this is happening regardless, and we Canucks didn’t get a vote in any case, it behooves us to pragmatically keep an eye out for potential opportunities, from the standpoint of this country’s national interest. Below are five possibilities.

The Keystone XL pipeline project. Throughout Stephen Harper’s majority term from 2011 to 2015, this proposal of TransCanada’s was his Holy Grail. But success eluded him. Republican Mitt Romney, who lost to President Barack Obama in 2012, had promised a green light. But Obama was lukewarm. Eventually “maybe” became “no.” This left the landlocked discount on much Canadian crude production – about 25 per cent – unaddressed, with the cost to the Alberta and federal treasuries in the billions.

Attention thus turned to other projects including Kinder Morgan’s twinning of its Transmountain line to the Pacific. That proposal now has a conditional go-ahead from Ottawa and, as of last week, British Columbia. But such is the projected increase in global demand for oil over the next two decades, especially from Asia, that Keystone would still be a major boon to the Alberta and Canadian economies, even assuming Transmountain goes ahead. Pipelines are safer and cleaner than rail as a means of transporting crude. Trump and his chosen Secretary of State, oilman Rex Tillerson, are on record as strongly pro-Keystone. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has supported the project since the first days of his run for the leadership of the Liberal party in 2012.

Defeating ISIL. Canada remains a participant in the U.S.-led international coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. That includes special forces soldiers in Iraq, a military hospital, an intelligence centre, refueling and surveillance aircraft, and humanitarian relief. Though the coalition has made steady advances in pushing ISIL back from captured territory, progress has been slow. The protracted conflict has been one factor, among several, in exacerbating the refugee crisis that has destabilized Europe. Trump has set his administration one principal foreign-policy objective, which is to defeat ISIL. The sooner that happens, the sooner Canadian soldiers can come home.

Boosting trade. This is counter-intuitive, but bear with me. Trump has vowed to rescind the North American Free Trade Agreement, calling it the worst deal of its kind ever made. Few trade hands believe he will follow through on this promise, due to the pain it would cause American businesses and workers. But should the NAFTA go awry, the original Canada-U.S. free trade deal, struck by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President Ronald Reagan in 1988, goes back into effect. Thirty-five American states, most in the northeastern industrial belt, have Canada as their largest export market. The auto industry supply chain is integrated. And, Canada has not been on Trump’s trade radar in the past. American economic self-interest dictates its commerce with Canada remain unencumbered. It follows that international corporations looking for a toehold in North America may soon find Canada a useful port of call. (Taiwan, by the way, has recently been making a similar argument with respect to international and Canadian investment in China.)

Promoting exports. Trump has promised both a military build-up, reminiscent of the Reagan era in the 1980s, and a massive infrastructure spending binge. Out-of-control deficits and debt would be, in the long run, debilitating – just as Reagan’s deficits eventually came back to haunt his successor, President George H.W. Bush. But the short-run effect of an infrastructure build-out may be an uptick in demand for Canadian products, services and natural resources. Even now, 75 per cent of Canadian exports are U.S.-bound. If Trump succeeds to any degree in his over-arching economic goal of kick-starting American manufacturing, Canadian suppliers stand to benefit.

A wakeup call. Trump’s Nov. 8 victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton has already had a disruptive effect on Canadian politics. For one thing, as I wrote last time, it has spawned a copy-cat nativist movement within the Conservative party of Canada. But the working-class revolt down south, which supported former Democratic party presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders as well as Trump, has provided a useful object lesson, too.

It has reinforced to politicians of every party that they lose sight of kitchen-table issues and economically hard-pressed working people at their peril. Had Obama and Hillary Clinton put more thought into helping displaced workers in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, she might now be poised to become president. The shock of her loss is certain to focus Canadian political minds on supporting displaced workers here, especially in Alberta and Southwestern Ontario. They can use the help.

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