Has Trump damaged Canada-United States relations irreparably?

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Even if Donald Trump is defeated on Nov. 3, and that is by no means a certainty, the differences that mark our two countries will only continue to grow

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on October 19, 2020.

OTTAWA—Has Donald Trump damaged Canada-United States relations irreparably?

According to a Focus Canada poll published in The Globe and Mail last week, Canadians’ view of our southern neighbour has sunk to the lowest level since those statistics have been collected.

The polling consortium included the Environics Institute, the University of Ottawa and the Century Initiative.

The number of Canadians who consider the United States an enemy has jumped from one per cent to 11 per cent in the past seven years.

Roland Paris, a political science professor and former adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quoted as saying the worsening of Canada’s view was largely a result of attitudes toward American president Donald Trump. Paris said the number of Canadians who consider the United States an enemy “is more an expression of frustration and alienation than the actual belief that the United States represents an enemy.”

But I am not so sure.

The Senate hearings into the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett shine a light into what is really going on in the United States.

That a candidate for the Supreme Court could claim the president does not have to abide by Supreme Court decisions is outrageous. Her public claim that it was an “open question” as to whether the president could pardon himself is startling. Barrett said she would have to study the issue before rendering a decision on it.

She also refused to weigh in on a defeated Trump’s potential refusal to leave office and was silent on the constitutionality of voter intimidation and deliberate attempts to discredit the election process.

She also refused to affirm the legality of mail-in ballots, claiming that it was “a matter of policy that I can’t express a view.”

Even after Trump has left office, the chief constitutionalists of the country are likely to be Supreme Court judges who are not prepared to defend against potential fraud in the White House.

By all accounts, Barrett’s nomination will sail through the Senate hearing process, as there are more Senators who want to anoint her than oppose her.

What does that say about the state of democracy in a country with or without Donald Trump as its leader?

The majority of Senators are willing to support a Supreme Court nominee, not because of her constitutional knowledge, but rather because of her religious beliefs. It is well known that Barrett is opposed to abortion and has already spoken out against the legal decision of Roe versus Wade that provides the basis for legal abortions in the United States. Barrett refused to be pinned down on the matter during the Senate hearings, but she has previously joined groups and signed petitions opposing all abortions.

That runs counter to the view of the majority of Americans, but aligns with the core of religious zealots who have lined up to re-elect Trump.

The fact that Trump still garners 42 per cent support just two weeks before the vote is a reflection, not just of the president, but of the state of politics in the United States.

The fact that no moderate Republicans have crossed the floor to vote with the Democrats and block the Barrett nomination is a further signal of how powerful the religious right has become in the last number of years.

Senator Lindsay Graham, in a dead heat in his own bid for re-election, has flipped his opposition to the early nomination and is now leading the charge to see her confirmed before the November 3 election day.

All that to say that even after Trump is no longer the president, the cleavage between Canadian and American viewpoints is growing.

Only 22 per cent of Canadians surveyed believe that Canada is getting more like the United States. For the first time since the question has been asked, more Canadians felt our country is becoming less like America. Thirty-five per cent of those polled held that view this year, compared with only nine per cent back in 2001.

The trend lines are definitely continuing as Canada and the United States go in distinctly different directions.

In addition to the Trump effect, Canadians referenced American racial unrest and its inept response to COVID 19 as reasons why they believe the two countries are growing apart.

Canadians continue to view our American neighbour with growing indifference. Some are even openly hostile.

Even if Trump is defeated on Nov. 3, and that is by no means a certainty, the differences that mark our two countries will only continue to grow.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.