OTTAWA — Protectionism is rearing its head again in the United States, leaving the Trudeau minority government to figure out ways to work with an unpredictable neighbour.
History has a funny way of repeating itself.
It’s a scenario Canada found itself in during the early 1970s. Liberal prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was in charge at the time when his U.S. counterpart, president Richard Nixon, turned his country inward to protect domestic industries during the last stretch of the Vietnam War.
Nixon’s administration slapped protectionist tariffs on Canadian imports with no advanced notice, which strained the “special relationship” the two countries had enjoyed for decades. It also further curdled relations between the countries’ two leaders. The U.S. president dubbed the prime minister a “pompous egghead” and called him a “son of a bitch” behind closed doors. “I’ve been called worse things by better people” was Trudeau’s famous retort to the president’s insults.
Now his son, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has found himself in a similar position.
U.S. voters are faced with a choice between incumbent Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic former vice-president Joe Biden. But a Biden win won’t necessarily signal the end of protectionist measures implemented under Trump. They will just look different.
Both candidates represent ideas that could raise new trade-related problems for the Trudeau government, according to Christopher Sands, Canada Institute director at The Wilson Center, a think-tank based in Washington, D.C.
“I think that sometimes in [U.S.] elections, Canadians just sort of watch American politics and think about who they would vote for, and I think that it’s a bit of a mistake, because you think about what you like but not necessarily what’s in Canada’s interest,” Sands told HuffPost Canada.
“Whoever wins, the next four years are going to be bumpy and they’re going to be difficult for Canada...