The consequences for British Columbia of Tuesday’s election in the United States are no more starkly apparent than the situation at the Canada/U.S. border, which remains closed to non-essential travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decimation of B.C.’s tourism sector and the inability of travellers to cross the border remains “one of the biggest headwinds we’re fighting on economic recovery,” according to Jock Finlayson of the Business Council of B.C.
So “the sooner the U.S. gets control of the pandemic, the sooner the border can reopen,” Finlayson said. “And I’m suggesting that the likelihood of getting control of the pandemic would be under a Biden administration,” referring to Democratic party presidential contender Joe Biden.
By contrast, the White House of Republican incumbent Donald Trump is “sort of giving up (on COVID-19) and, you know, betting all their chips on a vaccine.”
According to Reuters News, a record 80 million Americans — more than half the total 2016 voter turnout — have already cast ballots before Tuesday’s decision day. This election is viewed by many as one of the most important U.S. votes in decades.
British Columbians, along with all Canadians, await the outcome on Wednesday, or whenever the vote count is complete, and the impact that will have on cross-border trade, diplomatic relations and co-operation on combating climate change.
Polling in the U.S. is predicting a Biden win — prominent number-cruncher Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website estimated an 89 in 100 chance of that outcome as of the weekend — but both candidates are continuing their campaigns down to the wire.
And the BCBC’s estimate is that a Biden presidency, in combination with Democrats gaining control of the U.S. Senate, would be more beneficial to B.C. and Canada, Finlayson said, beginning with that factor of taking the COVID-19 pandemic more seriously.
“The sooner the virus can be contained and brought under control, the better it will be for the economy, so that’s the first reason,” said Finlayson.
Finlayson added that with Biden as president, providing Democrats are also in charge of the U.S. Congress, there would be consensus to deliver on a new stimulus package bigger than government’s initial $2 trillion CARES Act, which a slowing U.S. economy will need come 2021.
“So that’s good for us in Canada and B.C.,” Finlayson said. “A stronger American economy, even just in the next couple of years, would obviously be a positive development from a Canadian perspective.”
Trump, on the other hand, has been “stepping off the global stage and being very protectionist,” said Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade.
Huberman said her organization represents a big chunk of B.C.’s exporting manufacturers, so “what we’ll need to know is how we’re going to trade (with the U.S.). Are we going to have a collaborative relationship?”
However, Huberman added that Canadians are also looking for better leadership on social issues such as racism and equality.
“Who is going to say the words, create the vision, create the action to ensure there is social cohesion? Because what is happening in the U.S. around politics, around racism is also outpouring and overflowing into our nation.”
Postmedia News talked to other experts and pundits to get a sense of what the election outcome might be in key areas.
The Trump presidency has been “destabilizing for the global trading system,” said Kristin Hopewell, who specializes in global policy as a professor in the University of B.C. School of Public Policy.
Trump pushed Canada and Mexico into a forced renegotiation of NAFTA, which resulted in a remarkably similar deal known as the Canada, U.S., Mexico Agreement on this side of the border, and has arbitrarily imposed tariffs on its major trading partners, including its closest allies.
Biden “seems to be sending the signal he is interested in trying to rebuild and reconnect to these multilateral institutions, international organizations,” added Hopewell, the Canada 150 Research Chair on global policy.
“That would be something quite positive for Canada in general and B.C. in particular,” she said.
A Trump re-election, however, would mean “we can expect to see a continuation of this sort of profound instability in the trading system in the global economy,” Hopewell said.
That’s not to say B.C. and Canada wouldn’t face new trade challenges under a Biden presidency, said Finlayson.
“There will probably be a bit more stability in the trade relationship, but not a fundamental change in America’s approach to the world,” Finlayson said.
The patriotic push to “buy American,” to help rebuild the U.S. economy is a sentiment that extends beyond Trump’s White House, he said, and the tendency to favour de-globalization is more of a bipartisan issue.
“I think America will continue to move in a protectionist direction,” Finlayson said.
One casualty of the CUSMA negotiations was an end to a bilateral border policy between the countries, said Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University, with little interest in coming up with a new one under the Trump administration.
There has been a lot of turnover in high-level diplomatic positions in the U.S., “and this administration has made it really hard to maintain some of those basic relationships between the U.S. and Canada,” Trautman said.
Under a Biden administration, “there is enough of a recognition at the lower levels of the importance of that relationship, and it’s sort of like, ‘we can all go back to work now,’” Trautman added.
She expects Biden would bring back the personnel — ambassadors and career diplomats — to “return to sort of normal diplomatic relations. If a Trump administration stays in, there’s very little hope that will be achieved, because it won’t be a focus of the administration and the channels aren’t really there to dedicate bandwidth to it.”
Biden has put tackling climate change into the top tier of his campaign platform, with a promise to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, which “would be a positive for Canada,” Finlayson said.
Any increases in climate-related regulation, whether it is carbon pricing or restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions “would help to level the playing field between Canada and the U.S.,” Finlayson said.
“Right now, there’s no national carbon price in the U.S. and the national government is doing virtually nothing to mitigate emissions,” and is even fighting to restrict states such as California from taking their own steps, Finlayson said.
Trautman said those Biden environmental policies might “play out very well for B.C. versus Alberta,” considering their alignment with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (who is also up for election Tuesday but expected to win) and B.C. premier-elect John Horgan.
“(Biden) has already signalled he’s likely to make some major investments in renewable energies and carbon commitments that would be much more friendly to B.C.,” Trautman said.
One side-effect of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, which involved barring newcomers from certain Muslim countries and restricting visas for skilled immigrants, is that Canada has looked more attractive as a destination.
“It’s helped convince U.S. technology companies like Amazon and Microsoft and others to expand their presence in Canada, because it’s easier to access global talent here,” Finlayson said.
A Biden administration, however, would turn that tide and the benefits Canada has reaped under Trump “would diminish over time, and then maybe disappear completely.”
The U.S. has “the companies, they have the career opportunities and they’ve got the scale that we simply can’t match up here.”
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