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Editorial: Parting ways

Trump Effect
Trump Effect

It’s a good thing that humans aren’t designed to be able to viscerally remember pain. Perhaps if we were, we’d all be only children — because, who would do childbirth again?

But that inability to remember pain has its own pitfalls — pitfalls like U.S. President Donald Trump. That’s because the inability to remember pain means we often have a far rosier view of the past than we did when we were actually living right there in it — and often, people wind up longing for “good old days” they didn’t really have.

Trump has shown a penchant for trying to turn the clock backwards; “making America great again” often seems to involve undoing things, rather than moving forward. Undoing government regulation, undoing environmental protections, undoing trade pacts: somehow, there’s a view that a return to a smaller-government isolationist nation will improve the lot of Americans.

Fewer markets and less competition might well increase the fortunes of American-only manufacturers — at the same time, since the main driver of any manufacturer’s costs is labour, the more Americans employed, the higher prices they will have to pay, unless they’re willing to work for the same wages paid in other countries.

Last week’s G20 meeting shows one thing pretty clearly: that the United States, at least under Trump, is more than comfortable to be an outlier. Instead of seeing watered-down statements from the meeting, we’re seeing one position from 19 of the 20, with the Americans essentially on their own page.

“We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris agreement,” the final communiqué said, adding: “The leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris agreement is irreversible.”

Where does that leave us?

We’re in a particularly difficult position in this country. So much of our trade is with the U.S., and so much of our border, as well. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been trying to walk a fine line on the issue, staying friendly with Trump to the extent that he can, while at the same time siding on major issues with more forward-looking nations.

But that can only work for a while — especially with Trump’s intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

When your best friend takes their ball and goes home in a huff, you can’t just sit on the field and hope that they will come back.

You’ve got to start making other friends.

On issues like NAFTA, we should seek the best arrangement we can get — that, at least, is obvious. But we should also clearly turn to the rest of the world — a world that does not say it plans to hold us to ransom for its own benefit.

It may just be that, for Canada, the era of best friendship with the United States might be reaching an end.

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