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The ONW Salon: The Trump vs. Clinton Debate - What Did It Reveal About Their Presidencies And Canada?

The first debate is over, the polls on who won are rolling in and the pundits are going full throttle. But what clues did the match reveal about how Canada would fare with either one as President of the most powerful country in the world? Richard Mahoney, John Capobianco and Tom Parkin analyze that in the ONW Salon.



John Capobianco:

The debate between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton was the most anticipated political event in recent memory. As it has been said many times leading up to the event, it had a SuperBowl game feel to it.

As a political activist, I was thrilled to see so many people who would otherwise not care about the political process actually talking about wanting to watch it - and by the media reports since the debate, they did watch it!

Now, I do know some were going to tune in because of what they thought would be the "entertainment value" of seeing two of the most unpopular US presidential nominees going after each other, with many eyes on Donald - wondering whether he was going to be the Donald of the primaries or the new, improved Donald who was going to take a more "presidential" approach.

Well, from my perspective, I can say that Donald had Hilary for the first 30 minutes or so of the debate when he was actually on the offence, pushing her on economic and trade issues and trying to corner her as the "same old, same old". At one point, he had her in the corner of the ring, pouncing on her about 30 years of political activity with not much to show for it. Ouch!

However, as the debate went on, the tables did turn and Hilary starting getting under Donald's skin and had Donald very much on the defence, by smartly and calmly bringing up his taxes, his involvement with the Miss Universe pageant and all the subtle and not-so-subtle implications that came with those.

All in all, I think Hilary came out looking like the polished, more prepared candidate, but whether that appeals to the millions of Americans who have tuned in to the debate - and many for the first time ever - is yet to be seen.


Richard Mahoney:

That was some fancy debatin’ goin’ on there Monday night.

On Trump, I think we saw confirmation of exactly how this guy rolls - he is so impressed with his own counsel that he just wings it. That kinda works for him in short spurts when he plays demagogue to the audience. But over the course of the debate, you could just see the narcissistic delusion of his excellence take over.

I think a Trump presidency presents a challenge to Canada in two ways. First, his lack of knowledge of global affairs, national security and his stalwart conviction that he "knows more than the generals" and everyone else, will make for an uncertain presidency. This will create risks for the world. His reactions to events will be visceral, and he will convince himself that "the people love me". This will lead him to do erratic things, as we have seen.

America's friends, including Canada, won't know if they can rely on him to do the right thing, the sensible thing, and to honour obligations. (See Trump's responses on just about anything.) This will make for a destabilized world, and that is not good for a global trading nation like Canada.

Second, he is a climate change denier and we are trying to be part of a global solution and leadership on that. Finding ways to convince people to put a price on carbon and reduce emissions is hard enough. His obstinacy will only make that work more difficult.

Thirdly, he has vowed to tear up and renegotiate America's trading agreements. As their largest trading partner, and the US being our largest partner, this represents huge risk. I don't know a lot of Canadians who think we should give the Americans a better deal on NAFTA. The threat of more economic disruption is there at a minimum.

A less safe and predictable world, led by an unqualified narcissist as US president. And further economic dislocation. It doesn't sound promising, does it?


Tom Parkin:

The question today is what a Clinton or Trump presidency would mean for Canada.

But, since the debate was just Monday night, I'll throw in some reaction.

Trump lost and he lost big. His falsehoods alone mean he lost big. His ranting and anger means he lost big. Clinton branded him as a birther, a racist, a sexist and a tax freeloader. He had no responses to those charges. Ergo, he lost. And lost big.

But so what?

We really don't understand Trump. He has no real positions. Sure he rants about NATO freeloaders and tries to suck up to blue collar workers with tirades against free trade. He imagines some autarkic United States penned in by tariff walls. But it's entirely possible this is nothing more than - dare I say! - braggadocious behaviour.

We get an impression of Trump. And clearly he's a deeply bigoted, self-celebratory man. That's about all I truly know about him.

Trump is, therefore a series of question marks. With a couple big, big exclamation marks.

Most Canadians distrust him. To some, the reaction is disgust. One thing's for sure - if he were President, our government would stand way back. The last thing any Canadian political party would do is jump in, with both feet, to some foreign adventure led by Trump. Far from it.

Clinton, on the other hand, is far more likely to have a sympathetic audience in Canadians. And therein lies a danger for us. Clinton is a military hawk. We saw her chum with Kissinger. We see her direction in Libya. There is a risk that Canadians could get pulled into Clinton foreign adventures.


John Capobianco:

Tom, you get 10 points for using "braggadocious" in your submission - well done.

I think no matter who becomes President of the USA, the relationship with Canada will be measurably different than it has been over the last number of administrations on both sides of the border. Principally because the most important issues that have kept our two countries tied so closely together, notwithstanding our geographical proximity, are trade and security.

Both of these issues are being discussed and debated in the US election and not to our benefit. Both talk negatively about NAFTA and both talk about wanting to renegotiate the deal, which we all know would take forever to put back together once it gets taken apart. With 75 per cent of our exports going south, this could have significant implications.

The other trade deal that both Trump and Clinton oppose (although Clinton seems to flip flop on this one) is the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which was negotiated under the Harper government and is lightly supported by the current government. With the US pulling out of the deal, it could also have an adverse effect on our role within the agreement.

Then there is the issue of security – here is where a Trump presidency would have very negative implications for us, if for no other reason than his position on NATO and his more focused position that unless all NATO members pay their respective fair share of the cost to be a member – 2 per cent of GDP with respect to defense spending - then he will pull the US out of NATO. Incidentally, Canada spends 0.98 per cent of our GDP, which is far below the 2 per cent threshold.

So my thesis is that either a Trump or Clinton presidency will change the way we deal with our largest trading partner to the south. I think when PM Trudeau lavished very public admiration upon President Obama, it certainly played well with many Canadians who felt that a strong Canada/US relationship would ultimately benefit us.

However, the challenge our PM faces now - after such a display of mutual admiration - is that his relationship with a new President is highly unlikely to be as close as with Obama, and that will be taken as a sign to many as a chilled relation. Which wouldn't necessarily be fair, but nothing in politics is fair.

There are a few more debates, including the VP debates, so let's see how they go and let's hope whoever wins will remember that we are an important partner to the US.


Richard Mahoney:

A Clinton presidency, while not altogether benign for Canada, certainly poses less risk. She is a known commodity - she won’t make irrational decisions. She will take advice. Her experience as a Senator from New York, a border state, as First Lady and as Secretary of State mean she knows a fair bit about us and about the importance of the relationship. She has advisers with a rich knowledge of Canada, including, among others, former US Ambassador to Canada Gordon Giffin, who also spent the first years of his life in Canada.

Secondly, she has a profound understanding of geopolitics and will be a much more cautious global leader. She has a history of being a bit of a hawk but I think the prevailing view in the US is to try to avoid further military entanglements. As a smart politician, she will follow that tack.

She also believes in climate change and thinks we can do something about it, so is much more likely to work with Prime Minister Trudeau and the provinces to implement the North American climate change plan that President Obama and the Prime Minister have discussed.

So all in all, we will still be “sleeping with the elephant” in Pierre Trudeau’s memorable phrase. But the elephant will be much less likely to roll over on us.

That, and we avoid the Trumpian risk of dumb decisions made by a narcissist demagogue and the destabilization that results from the same. To paraphrase that philosopher king, Bill Murray, so we would have that going for us, which is nice.


Tom Parkin:

Clinton and Trump represent two different problems. The risk with Trump is that he will destroy international institutions and crisis will result. The risk with Clinton is that she puts too much faith in the existing international institutions.

In my opinion, we are in a dangerous place as a planet. We have this massive challenge of climate change on us. And it occurs exactly at a time that the neo-liberal prescription for the economy seems to have run its course.

We've had a massive meltdown after a huge US speculative bubble that spread across the globe. Quantitate easing one, QE 2, tapering - the central bankers have done their best to reflate this economy. But you can't lead a dead horse to water. Nothing has mobilized investment and spurred the economy.

Meanwhile the attack on Iraq, spreading to the Arab Spring then the Syrian civil war, has sent millions of refugees into Europe. Combined with the ongoing terrorist attack from extremists, it's all created a cauldron of racism.

It can't be Trump. But Clinton will have to be a lot more than a business-as-usual President to move from the current set of assumptions to a new set that revives the economy, addresses climate change and works toward peace. I am hopeful that she can provide this vision - if only because we need it so badly.


Richard Mahoney is a lawyer with deep experience in politics and governance.  He is a former senior advisor to the Rt. Hon Paul Martin, a former Campaign Chair and President of the Ontario Liberal Party. John Capobianco is a Senior Partner and National Public Affairs Lead at FleishmanHillard. He has been a Conservative strategist with over 30 years of political activism at all three levels, including as a former federal Conservative candidate. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist and a frequent commentator on national issues. 


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