Critical ‘what ifs’ await Canada: Collenette [Toronto Star]

June 26, 2016 at 12:00 am  •  Posted in Newsroom, Penny's Pen by

Trudeau got a huge boost with his Obama bromance, but U.S. relations are about to change, regardless who wins

Could there be a more precipitous time for the 10th Annual North American Leader’s Summit (once known as the Three Amigos) to gather in Ottawa next week? In the wake of the historic boulversant of the Brexit vote, the European continent as we have known it is in danger of further dissolution. And the U.K.’s own prospects may also be dim.

What better time to showcase North American relationships and friendship? What better time to overcome trade irritants, cross border issues and challenges with visa requirements between Mexico, Canada and the U.S. What better time to show strength? Right?

The problem is we have an outlier among us, but just as the Brexit vote crept up on the world, this is only now becoming apparent to North Americans. The same forces of austerity, inequity between peoples, and fear of newcomers do not only belong in the U.K. Right wing parties and leaders without acceptable limits are becoming too familiar. Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, Ted Cruz, Boris Johnson and of course, Donald Trump are leading this new pack of politicians who are happy to exploit fear, rather than hope.

However, there is momentary good news and Canadians must bask in it. On the whole, the Three Amigo Summit should be positive news, both for photo ops and meaningful trilateral discussions on climate change integration, cyber security and trade. Following the summit, the bromance of the year will be on display as PM Justin Trudeau and President Obama continue their well known political hug. Not since Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan sang “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” have a Canadian PM and an American President enjoyed such a sympatico friendship.

Both men, along with their popular and outgoing spouses, genuinely believe in the “Audacity of Hope,” the title of Obama’s first book and the mantra for his presidency. Both the Obamas and the Trudeaus reject the use of fear, intimidation and nasty politics as valid policy options and election strategies.

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But hope sometimes fades as realities set in. While it must be a great relief to Obama to finally find a North American partner who shares his deep concern for the environment, for health care and social issues in general, the fact remains that a quarrelsome and stubborn Congress has managed to derail much of his presidency.

Nevertheless, next week’s photos will show genuine warmth between all three leaders, with a special spotlight on the longest undefended border in the world, Canada and the U.S. Obama will take to the floor of the Canadian Parliament for a special joint address. Unelected senators and elected MPs will sit together and listen to one of the most historic figures and no doubt one of the most historic speeches of our time.

It will be a moment to remember for all. A time to carpe diem because a “what if” is lurking in the weeds.

What if this time next year, President Trump is ensconced in the Oval Office? Canadian American relations will be upended. Gone will be sunny ways and sunny days. Dark menacing clouds will loom full of bombastic fury.

What if NAFTA, our always contentious but business successful trade deal, is renegotiated by a President Trump, as he has promised it will be? (How he will negotiate with Mexico while building a wall along their border is anyone’s guess). In fairness, Hillary Clinton also has concerns about both NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership, which 12 Pacific Rim countries have signed. Protectionism will rear its head no matter who is the president, a matter of huge concern for both Canada and Mexico.

What if a new American ambassador to Canada does not share our values? It is not beyond the realm of possibility that either Chris Christie, the hapless New Jersey governor or Sarah Palin, the unusual former governor of Alaska, could technically fit the bill for a Trump presidency. Both have supported him and both New Jersey and Alaska are close in proximity to Canada.

What does all this mean for Justin Trudeau and the still new Liberal government? With Obama about to exit the political stage, can Canadians become the keeper of the flame of hope and tolerance?

Too bad we can’t look into the future … or maybe. It is better that we can’t. Let’s just enjoy the day.

By: Penny Collenette
Toronto Star