Hydro exports, violence, 'erosion' of debate: what's worrying Quebecers ahead of U.S. decision

What’s at stake for Quebec right now in the U.S. election? A lot, to hear the province’s political and business leaders worry over the results on Wednesday.

Several key states are still too close to call. Here’s some of what prominent Quebecers are thinking about:

HYDRO AND OTHER EXPORTS

Four more years of President Donald Trump’s trade protectionism could spell trouble for some of Quebec’s economic anchors—not that it’s clear exactly how Joe Biden would handle the same questions.

Hydro-Quebec is counting financially on some major deals in the U.S., notably a $10 billion contract to supply Massachusetts with power for 20 years.

Desjardins estimates that 20 per cent of Quebec’s GDP depends on exports to the U.S.

Trump has imposed tariffs on one of Quebec’s top exports before—aluminum, which alone makes up a tenth of the province’s export market, according to Investissement Quebec.

BUY-AMERICAN RULES

Biden has also said he wants to spend $400 billion for the government to prioritize buying American goods.

If strict buy-American policies took off, Canadian companies would need to open factories in the U.S. to do business with the U.S. government.

“If they maintain their headquarters here in Quebec, it is positive for us because we're benefiting from it,” said Veronique Proulx of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association. 

“But when we look at where the plants are going, and employees as well, those job creations [would be] happening in the U.S., unfortunately.”

One Parti Quebecois MNA says that overall, given the choice, he’d cast his vote with Biden and hope for a more stable Quebec-friendliness. 

“Even the wind power that we have in my area... now there's a big problem, because there is a surtax on it,” Pascal Bérubé said. 

Given what Trump’s first term looked like, said Bérubé, there’s no telling what would happen in a second.

“He might be different—if it’s possible, more outrageous,” he said

A BIDEN COVID-19 LOCKDOWN

While Trump has been widely criticized for his lax response to COVID-19, especially for his opposition to temporarily closing businesses, at least one Quebec company has benefited from that.

Biden has said he wants to do more to fight the virus. Montreal-based Kualla Tee, which has recently been trying to expand in the States, said a Biden lockdown would hurt it.

“When the lockdown first happened, we were asking ourselves if we’re still going to be in business coming out of this,” said company co-founder Yaniv Abecassis.

Another Quebec company says that, with 60 per cent of its business south of the border, there’s been a clear pattern: having a Republican in the White House has been better for Quebec small businesses.

“Several of our small business owners…they feel more comfortable with the Republican Party in charge,” said Jean-Pierre Benoit, the general manager of Quebec-based American Biltrite, which sells flooring and industrial rubber.

Still, Benoit wouldn’t say which party he prefers in this election.

INFECTIOUS SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Benoit said he was worried less about which way the election goes and more about what happens around its end.

“What's going to happen with the social climate—will there be violence, will I reopen my store, my garage?” he said.

Some Montreal companies are less hesitant to wade into politics, even if it hurts their popularity with American customers.

“We think that Trump is really really bad for America, for the world, for Canada,” said Ayal Twik, the co-CEO of Montreal-based Moose Knuckles, which makes winter jackets.

And some politicians struck a similar tone on Wednesday.

“Trump is the culminating point of a long dynamic of erosion of the public debate, of disintegration of civic spirit in the United States, and we're not there yet,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the co-leader of Quebec Solidaire.

He raised concerns about toxic election rhetoric and growing social divisions in the U.S., saying people need to stay aware of how those problems may seep across the border and influence Quebecers.

“When we have an uncle or a friend who is seduced by the Trump discourse, we should not point fingers,” he said. “We should try to engage in a dialogue with them.” 

And it’s not just a win that he’s worried about, he said. With the race already so tight, he said, “we have to see this result as a warning.”

Nadeau-Dubois also said he was very worried that a Trump win would set the climate movement back significantly.

AVOIDING MAKING ENEMIES

Premier François Legault was more reluctant to talk about the election. He tweeted cautiously on Wednesday that no matter who wins, Quebec will continue to work closely with the U.S. 

“I think everyone is watching it closely, but we will work with the next president, whether it is Mr. Biden or Mr. Trump,” he said.

“What is important is to keep on working with the U.S. because it's an important partner for us, commercial partner.”

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