Analysis & Comment

COMMENTARY: Whoever wins, the U.S. election will significantly impact Canada

The U.S. presidential election takes place Tuesday and Canadians are standing on guard.

Our anxiety is not surprising nor unfounded. I feel the pit in my stomach swell while bingeing U.S. news nightly. After all, we have a lot at stake, as the U.S. impacts us economically more than any other nation.

Our two countries also share the world’s largest undefended border; with the uncertainty of a peaceful transition of power, our fears are understandable.

“I think we’re certainly all hoping for a smooth transition or a clear result from the election, like many people are around the world,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week.

“If it is less clear, there may be some disruptions and we need to be ready for any outcomes, and I think that’s what Canadians would expect of their government, and we’re certainly reflecting on that.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland echoed those sentiments, revealing that the federal government has been analyzing potential scenarios, based on election outcomes, noting “either outcome will be significant for Canada.”

While our government strategizes how best to strengthen and solidify relationships with our southern neighbours, sadly, many Canadians have lost that love.

According to a recent poll, more than three in five Canadians now have an unfavourable view of the United States, and for the first time, a growing proportion of Canadians think that the two countries are becoming less alike. While nearly 66 per cent of Canadians are hoping to see Joe Biden in the White House, regardless of who wins, COVID-19 will not miraculously disappear on Nov. 3.

If Donald Trump remains in office, as White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said last week, the U.S. is “not going to control the pandemic.” Trump has not released any sort of plan for COVID-19 for his potential second term, repeatedly claiming the country is “rounding the turn” on the crisis.

Yet the U.S. continues to see case numbers rise, with more than 8.7 million infected and over 226,000 deaths since the onset of the pandemic.

If Biden wins, he has outlined a plan for COVID-19 that includes expanding access to personal protective equipment (PPE), stronger measures to enforce mask-wearing and physical distancing, more funding for a vaccine as well as aid to those impacted by the pandemic, including a special task force to address racial and social disparities in COVID-19.

Regardless of the victor and the plan or lack thereof, our border is still at risk as long as the virus continues to spread. While the border has been closed to all non-essential travel since March, 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since then, and 1.1 million were not essential workers.

As of now, restrictions have been extended until at least Nov. 21, but with a lack of clarity on what is deemed “non-essential travel,” the threat of cross-border spread becomes greater as the U.S. continues to see a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Moreover, fuelled by fears of the pandemic, racial tension, civil unrest and potential fallout from the election, gun sales have skyrocketed in America. Gun retailers saw a 95 per cent increase in firearm sales and a 139 per cent increase in ammunition sales in the first six months of 2020 compared with the same period last year. If there is not a peaceful transition of power, suddenly the threat of violence spilling over into our country becomes very real as well.

On the matter of trade, a Trump or Biden victory poses risks to our country’s economy.

“The issue is that Canada has become increasingly dependent on its neighbour south of the border, and when you combine this with the strong ‘America First’ policies of both presidential candidates, Canada will feel the brunt of those decisions,” said Alex Kotsopoulos, vice-president of projects and economics with RSM Canada.

When it comes to the environment, the two candidates couldn’t be further apart. When asked if he believed in climate change during the last presidential debate, Trump responded, “I do love the environment,” and berated India and China for how “filthy” they are, deflecting his obligation. Trump stands for more oil, more coal, more gas and less regulation around all of it. This includes continued commitment to the Keystone XL pipeline, which, upon completion, would carry almost one-fifth of the oil Canada exports to U.S. refineries daily.

By contrast, Biden plans to invest largely in clean energy, cancel the yet-to-be-built Keystone XL pipeline, and rejoin the Paris Accord. Biden has also said he will hold a global climate summit within 100 days of taking office to encourage other countries to commit to climate policies.

“Global warming is an existential threat to humanity,” Biden said during the debate. “We have a moral obligation to deal with it.”

Looking at international affairs, rising tension between China and the U.S. is going to persist, regardless of who becomes president. Undoubtedly, Canadians will feel the ripple effects of those strained relations. While Biden has said he wants to work more closely with allies to push back against global authoritarianism, we do not have a sense of how either foresees U.S.-China relations long-term.

What has worried me deeply over the past four years is the polarizing political discourse that has unfolded in the United States.

Under Trump’s administration, we have watched the U.S. become a nation divided. Trump’s searing, anti-government prattle has not only been harmful to American citizens, but has also slowly seeped into our own country’s political rhetoric. I fear that our politics could eventually become more polarized if he remains in power. We are already seeing issues of racial justice, gender equity, health care and child care causing a divide.

Whatever the outcome on Nov. 3 and the days that follow, Canadians should be paying attention.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.

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