In Ottawa and Washington, you can hear the hand-wringing and the teeth-sucking over Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton would be a far more “acceptable” partner to work with, or so the thinking goes. But once one is outside the bubbles of the capitals, one finds a much different sentiment driving American voters. “Fed up,’ “disgusted,” “exasperated” and “had enough” are on the lips of many. That leads to an “anybody but…,” or a Brexit-like movement to just damn them all. The vein of outright discontent has been tapped before, but perhaps never in such a negative and inflammatory way.

Meanwhile, the unprecedented personal attacks and bombast connected to the two campaigns seem to keep reaching new lows. Just when you think the discourse has hit rock bottom, it goes subterranean. We can partly blame it on the marriage of social media with 24/7 news. Never before have we seen such scrutiny and investment in scandal, large and small. Bigotry, misogyny, and allegations of sexual misconduct on the one side, and allegations of corruption, fraud and perjury, on the other. Some of this toxicity will likely dissipate, but there is every reason to believe that America will remain a deeply divided nation the day after the ballots are cast.

This polarization does pose an ongoing risk to Canada-US relations. Notwithstanding the accusations of a rigged election and crooked system, the public’s sense of disenfranchisement and disengagement, and post-election fatigue, could lead to a prolonged and necessary focus on internal reconciliation and healing in the United States. Retrenchment in the US in the public and private sectors bodes ill for long-term Canadian economic interests.

Of course, the rule of law will prevail in court challenges related to commercial issues, and we can have confidence in the built-in dispute resolution mechanisms in our free trade agreements. The enormous benefits afforded by tariff-free access to Canadian products will likely mute the « Buy American » bellows. High quality Canadian lumber combined with a low dollar and the housing shortages in many states is one such economic reality check. History tells us that the ambitions of the US government and the strong department- to-department relations between our two countries are the counterbalance to prolonged domestic political machinations or indifference.

But the current period feels different, even ominous. The « sunny » relations enjoyed for the last year could give way to a cloudy, even stormy weather system should the United States dwell on unhealthy naval gazing for an extended period of time. The two campaigns seem equally unlikely to down weapons or take up tools of rebuilding in the immediate aftermath of November 8.

Our professional public servants need to show openness and understanding vis-à-vis the severe trauma their counterparts in the US bureaucracy are enduring. Calm, patience and cooperation will be critically important from this side of the border. In other words, our characteristic goodwill and readiness to overcome obstacles will serve both countries well.

Another consideration that bodes well for our continued, stable relationship, despite the post-election turmoil, is the shared membership in NORAD-NATO, and in the “Five Eyes” intelligence allegiance. Our collective security responsibilities and shared interests in keeping the citizens of North America safe makes us inseparable.

Our shared Arctic interests and our historic defence partnerships magnifies our force. They put Ottawa and Washington at the same international tables when it comes to sorting out the world’s most menacing threats of terrorism, radicalization and the erratic provocations by state and nonstate actors, most notably Russia, Iran and ISIS. Without our combined security efforts, Canada and United States are vulnerable. Military leaders are painfully aware of how we play into our enemies’ hands and leave ourselves more exposed when we become disjointed and incoherent. Thankfully, the military-to-military relationship in North America is incredibly strong, and represents trust and respect that go back over a century.

Canadians will be watching the dying hours of his hyperventilating, acid-splashing presidential campaign closely. But we should resist the urge to hector or to react with sarcasm and condescension, in the mistaken conceit that it could never happen in our pristine land. Let’s instead reach out in friendship, in a nonjudgmental way. A call for a tolerance, de-escalation and understanding while the dust settles below the 49th parallel will do wonders to return stability and productivity to the relationship.

Photo: Drop of Light /

This article is part of The US Presidential Election special feature.


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Peter MacKay
Hon. Peter MacKay, PC, QC, is the former justice minister and attorney general, minister of defence, minister of foreign affairs and the minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. He is now a partner with the Toronto-based law firm Baker McKenzie.

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