Column: The elephant living next door

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was no doubt conscious of his father’s famous quote from 48 years earlier when he met with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday.

Speaking to the Washington press club in 1969, the elder Trudeau compared living next to the United States like sleeping with an elephant. “No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast,” he said, “one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Certainly Canada has experienced its share of twitches and grunts during the intervening half-century. From disputes over softwood lumber, to salmon stocks, our relationship has been tested many times.

Fortunately, reason and compromise generally prevail. Trade agreements crafted between the countries have meant greater prosperity for both sides. Yes, there have been trade-offs, but deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement have brought jobs and stability in a global economy often ruled by rancour and suspicion.

But that stability is now in doubt. The meeting between Trudeau and Trump proved uneventful, however it comes at a time of intense unease – and a whole lot of twitching and grunting – in the U.S.

Trump has repeatedly called for the renegotiation of NAFTA, calling it the “worst treaty ever.” And while he softened that stance somewhat, it is unlikely the deal will be spared his “America first” mantra.

It is that protectionist bent that should concern B.C. and in particular Chilliwack. Our supply-managed dairy and poultry industry, for example, is often a target whenever there is talk of renegotiating trade deals. Our forestry industry, too, is routinely cited as unfair to its American counterparts.

But those are just the more obvious targets.

On a broader scale, the overall political stability and economic health of the U.S. is important to Canada.

It would be too easy to watch what’s happening in the United States with bemused indifference. But what’s happening there is about more than providing unending material for late night stand up.

Trump recently removed some of the regulations that were put in place following the economic collapse of 2008. That collapse, brought on by policy decisions in Washington, led to an economic failure that threatened to take the whole world – including Canada – with it.

Fortunately our banking practices here were robust enough to weather the storm (unlike countries like Ireland and Iceland). However, B.C. still suffered a dramatic loss in tourism and exports to the U.S., resulting in lost jobs and investment. Personal savings and pensions also fell victim to circumstances we had no control over.

Another U.S. action we’re still paying a collective price for is the invasion of Iraq. That move has shaken the stability of the Middle East, and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. The unrest has affected economies and created a refugee crisis unseen since the Second World War. The success of ISIS, the tragedy and Syria, the unrest in Lybia, the instability in Turkey, and the accommodation Canadians are making for people fleeing these regions are all tied to a past U.S. decision

My point is that the Trump train wreck should concern us all. American foreign policy is in disarray, national security in chaos, and members of Trumps’ own Republican party in open revolt.

The elephant living next door is twitching.

And Canadians should worry.

Greg Knill is editor of the Chilliwack Progress

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