By Alan M. Field
What kinds of changes would an American Administration run by Hillary Clinton mean for Canada and Canadians? How might it differ – either positively or negatively – from a future Administration of Mr. Trump or from the ebbing Administration of President Barack Obama? Does the extent and quality of support and antipathy for Hillary in Canada differ in any meaningful ways from that in the United States? If so, might that make any difference on how Hillary would interact with Canada and its leaders?
As the horserace of the long U.S. Presidential election enters the “home stretch,” it does little good to search the campaign rhetoric of Hillary Rodham Clinton for clues about how to answer these questions. Truth is, Mrs. Clinton has said almost nothing directly related to Canada, except for stating her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. Elsewhere, one has to read between the lines of Hillary’s statements on broader global issues – such as her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would incorporate Canada among its 12 members – and examine the emotional and rational arguments of her supporters and detractors.
A unique affinity with Canada
Despite the fragility of her support in the United States, suspicions of Hillary run less deep in parts of Canada – especially British Columbia and Quebec — than in much of the United States.
In the survey, conducted by Insights West last week, 79 per cent of respondents said they are “very concerned” or “moderately concerned” about the possibility of the Republican nominee becoming the President of the United States. That means four out of every five Canadians say a Trump White House would be bad for Canada. In contrast, in anther poll, forty-seven per cent of Canadians believed Clinton would be “good” or “very good” for Canada. Among Canadians, Hillary was most popular among Quebec voters, and perhaps surprisingly, even more popular among men in that province – 48 per cent – than among women, where she garnered support from 47 per cent. In part, Canadian views of Hillary (as with Mr. Trump) reflect both rational and emotional reactions to how they perceive Hillary’s personality and character, as well as her political positions.
Beyond their distrust of Mr. Trump, some portion of the emotional support for Hillary in Canada may be grounded in the fact that Hillary’s maternal grandmother, Della Martin, descended from a large family with French-Canadian roots, Clinton wrote in her well-publicized 2004 memoir, Living History. In 2007, genealogist Gail F. Moreau-Des Harnais, at the French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan, confirmed that French emigrants, departing from the town of Perche, 100 miles west of Paris, France, were among Hillary’s ancestors. According to her research, Clinton’s roots can be traced back to Jeanne Ducorp (circa 1649-1727), sometimes known by the surname Leduc. Ducorp was one of the “King’s Daughters” (Filles du Roy), hundreds of women who arrived in New France, sponsored by Louis XIV, to strengthen the colony sparsely populated by single men; and then married a Quebec metal worker named Martin Masse around 1670. More politically enticing to some Canadians, Moreau-Desharnais has also traced Clinton’s genealogical roots to some common ancestors of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (and, of course, to his father Pierre).
Although Mrs. Clinton has barely mentioned Canada during her residential campaign, her 2004 memoir mentioned the country several times, with apparent affection. This includes accounts of her state visits with newly inaugurated President Jimmy Carter to honour Pierre Elliott Trudeau, then Canada’s Prime Minister. Some supporters of Hillary have fondly recalled her longstanding relationship with Canada. Gordon Giffin, a former American ambassador to Canada, told the Canadian Press in an interview about how Hillary, then First Lady, surprised everyone with her insistence that she get to glide across an icy Rideau Canal during a state visit to Ottawa in February 1995, despite resistance by the U.S. Secret Service. Giffin said in the interview, “That may be a small thing to people, but how many people who’ve lived in the White House do you think have ever heard of the Rideau Canal and would recognize that you skate there? That’s an intensity of knowledge and affinity for Canada.”
On the other hand, other Canadian connections are still being used by her political opponents to attack her integrity. In an unflattering book about the Clinton family finances — Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich – author Peter Schweizer documented how Vancouver mining magnate Frank Giustra’s globe-trotting adventures with Bill Clinton have coincided with various lucrative business deals undertaken by contributors to the Clinton Foundation. The book, which alleges a link between charitable contributions and lucrative contracts awarded to Giustra’s uranium-mining company, has been dismissed by Giustra and the Clintons as riddled with errors and innuendo.
Less unpredictable than her Republican opponent?
What impact, if any, such an affinity might have on President Hillary Clinton remains to be seen. What kind of changes in U.S. policy might Canadians expect from a Hillary victory? Although Hillary ultimately opposed the Keystone XL pipeline that Prime Minister Trudeau supported, both have called for a new climate agreement between Canada and the U.S., The Liberal Party expressed its support for Hillary’s policy paper, calling for future climate negotiations between the U.S. and both Canada and Mexico. “The Liberal Party is firmly in favour of Ms. Clinton’s proposal,” said Liberal spokesman Dan Lauzon. “The Prime Minister and Ms. Clinton have both indicated an interest in clean growth and new infrastructure to fight climate change.” Trudeau told a clean-tech conference in Vancouver that his government was committing $50 million towards greener building and infrastructure codes. Echoing such an approach, Hillary’s campaign website posted a “comprehensive plan for making existing energy infrastructure cleaner and safer, unlocking new investment, and forging a climate compact with Canada and Mexico to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate clean energy deployment across the continent.”
Conservative critics of the Trudeau government are not impressed with Hillary’s gradual move toward more ‘progressive’ – that is to say, left-leaning – policies. Nor do they apparently put much store in the importance of her knowledge of Canada or affection for its culture. Writing shortly after the completion of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Terence Corcoran, a National Post columnist, criticized Mrs. Clinton on grounds that her personality, like that of Mr. Trump, was “alarmingly erratic” – given her carelessness in the scandal surrounding the management of her private e-mail server, during her tenure as Secretary of State (2009-13). Under her leadership, Corcoran warned, the United States would adopt leftist public policies that damage Canada. “At stake are the economic policies of the richest, most powerful country in the world, and in that contest Canada and the world would be better off without the Big Government regime envisioned in the 2016 Democratic Party Platform. The Democrats, under the influence of collectivists and socialists such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are clearly driving the party’s policy regime off the centrist track and turning sharply left. Compared with the Trump-influenced Republican platform, on just about every important economic issue facing America and the West, the Clinton Democratic agenda promises to make the U.S. government a vastly more interventionist and statist regime. From climate and energy to trade and spending, the Democrats are tilting dangerously away from sound policy — and they could take the world with them.”
Corcoran argued that Canadians “might recoil at Trump’s persona and antics, but nothing about the Democratic program would be good for Canada. On climate, trade and energy, Canada could be left out in the cold” because Hillary’s rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, championed by President Obama, and her sudden turnaround against NAFTA, which she had supported since its enactment in 1994. “If bad policy drives America, whether it’s rising debt or financial activism, Canada will feel the whiplash.” In an effort to win the Presidency in November, Corcoran added, Hillary had been pressured to win over left-leaning Bernie Sanders’ base of supporters by assaulting “the American foundations of free markets and self-sufficiency.”
When it comes to trade issues, the Democratic Party platform is “a mess of historical contradictions,” added Corcoran. “The platform says the party will ‘oppose all trade agreements that do not support good American jobs, raise wages and improve U.S. national security.’ As for NAFTA, Clinton has swung both for and against, depending on the audience and the time.”’ Like Mr. Trump, the Democrats say that they would kill the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership negotiated by President Obama and backed by the Canadian government and industry.
Not everyone agrees that a Hillary Clinton Administration would really have a dire impact on Canada. In a recent study, researchers at CIBC World Markets concluded, “Historically, Democratic Administrations have been more favourable for Canadian growth, whether or not there is a direct cause and effect,” according to CIBC economists Royce Mendes and Avery Shenfeld. “If one took Trump’s statements at face value, his inauguration would raise a number of risks on trade, monetary and defense policy of relevance to Canada, while being supportive on the pipeline front,” they added, referring to the pitched battle over TransCanada Corp.’s now-blocked Keystone XL project.
They added that Mr. Trump’s proposals would represent an “aggressive assault” on debt, which would hurt North American economic growth, and that his Administration’s “trade barriers could help Canada in some ways but hurt in others.” On the other hand, because Mr. Trump’s own policy views have zigged and zagged in several directions – and continue to change without notice – a definitive analysis of the impact of a Trump administration is impossible. As the CIBC researchers wrote, “Since his own platform has seen considerable shifts, and Congress might block some of the more radical proposals, it’s less clear what the final policy slate would be like from a Canadian perspective.”
A negative impact on Canada’s oil exports
On the other hand, “the longer-run outlook for a significant growth in the value of Canada’s oil exports to the U.S. is not promising,” casting a pall over Canada’s future growth, noted Stephen Globerman, a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute. Over the past 18 months, Canada’s trade performance has deteriorated markedly, he said. In early August, Statistics Canada reported that for the April-June 2016 quarter, Canada’s trade deficit with the world widened from C$6.4 billion in the first quarter of 2016 to a record C$10.7 billion.
He added that with a likely victory of Hillary in November, the current U.S. policy of promoting alternative energy sources “seems a bet.” In such a case, the Democrat Party’s platform, “which ignores the need for corporate tax reform and a reigning in of government regulations, does not augur well for accelerating growth of the U.S. economy,” which would stimulate increased Canadian exports of non-energy products. “In particular, the Democrat Party’s platform offers little to encourage private-sector capital investment, which has been an especially weak source of spending in the U.S. in recent years.” As a result, “It’s difficult to be optimistic about increased Canadian exports of machinery and other manufactured goods to the U.S. offsetting continuing unfavourable terms-of-trade in the energy sector, as well as possibly declining physical volumes of oil and natural gas exports to the U.S.”
If such an assessment proves accurate, even Hillary’s fondest Canadian supporters may wind up taking cold comfort from recognition of the former First Lady’s affections for Canada.