Tonight’s the night!

Americans, Canadians and many around the world will be watching the outcome of the US Presidential election, with the incumbent Donald J. Trump facing off against former Vice President Joe Biden.

If Canadians voted, Joe Biden would win by a landslide and Kamala Harris would be on track to become the first female and first Black woman to become Vice President. Then again, had Canadians voted in the race four years ago, Hilary Rodham Clinton would now be seeking a second term.

Needless to say, our American neighbours are different than us - culturally and demographically.  Their democratic institutions are different.  Indeed, the lack of an Elections Canada kind of central agency and a single set of election rules across the United States often make knowing the actual results a longer affair.

Regardless of who wins the election and who becomes President and Vice President in January, there are a number of realities that Canadians who have relationships with the United States will need to face:

1) Protectionism isn’t going anywhere

Whether it’s Trump’s “America First” or Biden’s “Build Back Better”, the next Administration and Congress will be focused on putting US interests ahead of any longstanding trading partners, including Canada. Even with a new Canada-US-Mexico Free Trade Agreement in place, the demand to prioritize American companies in any US decision making will make things more challenging for those doing business south of the border.  Canadians whose livelihoods depend on the American economy - and there are many - will need to make sure they are well represented in the transition team, White House, Capitol Hill and relevant State houses.

2) US political instability is going to continue

The economic and social forces that either brought Trump to power, or are fighting so hard against him, will persist in being heard.  People will be organizing, they will be taking to the streets, they will be connecting with their liked minded friends in the social media echo chamber, they will be demanding attention and action.  The only difference will be which people will be, to quote former President Barack Obama in a much more positive sense in 2008, “fired up and ready to go.” Canadians who don’t understand what motivates many Trump voters should prepare themselves that a change in leadership at the White House or the Democrats taking control of the Senate is not likely to heal divisions, at least in the short term.  In turn, we can expect that a Trump re-election will deliver more of the same instability of the last four years.  In either scenario, some pro-Trump or anti-Trump voters are likely to end up questioning the legitimacy of the US democratic system.  It’s difficult to see how either outcome will make America stable again.

3) COVID, COVID, COVID

Although President Trump’s latest prediction that the global pandemic will disappear as soon as we are past November 3, the data tells a different story. Case numbers are increasing in a majority of US states, Canadian provinces outside of our Atlantic bubble and many European countries. Last week, the CEO of Merck, one of the global pharmaceutical companies pursuing a COVID-19 vaccine, said that we should all expect to be wearing masks and practicing physical distancing well into 2021, with a vaccine not widely available until mid 2021 at the earliest.   This is our reality and for those who believe the Trump Administration’s COVID-19 response is lacking, remember this: even a Biden victory won’t change the direction of the United States until late January 2021.

When I worked with Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm as he was trying to promote the province’s economic interests in the United States after 9/11, we were constantly told by officials in the Bush Administration (including friends such as the late Ambassador Paul Cellucci, who knew and liked Nova Scotia from his time as Massachusetts Governor): “Security trumps trade.” (Who knew this verb would take on a completely different meaning within 20 years?!)

As businesses and organizations attempt to stay engaged with the US, it’s vital that your strategy accounts for the three main factors that will take precedence over any interest you may be advancing in either a Trump or Biden Administration: Protectionism, Political Instability and COVID-19.

No matter what, Canada and the United States have deep trade connections, a shared border, a long history of supporting each other in difficult times (from the Halifax Explosion to September 11) and 27 years of loaning them our Stanley Cup.  It’s a foundation of friendship that is envy of most countries in the world.