Trade, race and tone: here's what the American election could mean for Canada and Quebec

Canadians may not be eligible to vote in the United States presidential election, but they, like much of the world, could nevertheless see their own lives affected by the result.

One major way they might see their lives affected is in when the border between the United States and Canada might re-open. The border has been closed to non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic since March and that closure was recently extended until at least Nov. 21.

“I believe the border will likely be closed longer if (Democratic nominee Joe) Biden is elected. He seems to be much more cautious with COVID-19,” said Germain Belzile, a senior fellow at the Montreal Economic Institute and professor at HEC-Montreal.

“We have a lot of tourists from the United States, we do a lot of trade, so this would be a negative if Mr. Biden is elected.”

Neither President Trump nor Joe Biden have directly addressed a timeline for re-opening the border.

“While there's no way to pull a u-turn on the pandemic, I do think that it's more likely a Biden presidency would be able to put in place some public health measures that might start us in a direction where we might be able to open the border sooner,” said Emily Willis, a University of Ottawa professor of political science.

Belzile said that despite his prediction the border would re-open quicker under Trump, a second term could carry some negative repercussions for Canada in general and Quebec specifically.

Under Trump, trade relations between the two countries have often been contentious, with both sides hitting the other with tarifs on goods and rhetoric frequently getting heated during the negotiations for the updated trade agreement known as Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA).

“Mr. Trump has been quite aggressive with putting tarifs on Canadian aluminum. I would expect we could more easily make up our differences in trade if Mr. Biden is elected,” said Belzile.

Wills noted that a Biden administration would likely strike a much more conciliatory tone towards Canada, a difference that could have large consequences.

“I think tone does matter because to the greater extent Canada feels its not dealing with someone who sees them as a partner, that's going to involve a greater divergence in acceptable policy outcomes,” said Wills.

One less obvious way Canadians in general, and Quebecers specifically might see a difference depending on who wins is the social ramifications, said Wills.

“The context of social unrest about racism and policing in particular in the U.S. has a big spillover in Quebec and Ontario, in particular,” she said.

“I think the extent a Trump administration would galvanize those demands in the U.S. would lead to continued questioning and conflict around those issues in the large cities of Canada, and Quebec in particular. But those issues aren't going away under a Biden administration so I think what would happen in Quebec around race and systemic racism, is the way we talk about the issues would change.”

But no matter who Canadians are hoping for as the next leader of our neighbour to the south, Belzile struck a reassuring tone.

“Don't sweat it. We will all be alive tomorrow. This will not change our lives profoundly,” he said. 

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