Great first date but Canadians divided on how Trudeau should approach Canada-U.S. relations under Donald Trump

Not long after Donald Trump was elected we surveyed Canadians about the impact they thought his ascendance would have in a wide range of areas. We also asked them for their advice on how our Prime Minister should deal with Mr. Trump. We fielded the survey in the last week of November, well before the inauguration. The results were illuminating — they painted a picture of Canadians as very wary of Mr. Trump, even fearful — and we used this insight to support a stimulating panel discussion event H+K hosted in early December with three of our colleagues in the hot seats; Peter Donolo, Elizabeth Roscoe and Brad Lavigne.

The holidays came and went, and Mr. Trump transitioned from President-Elect to President. And then, all hell broke loose. We were struck by the frenetic pace as day after day announcements were made and executive orders signed; seemingly everyone in the world had something to say about it. With this in mind we decided to go back to Canadians and ask some of the same questions we asked preinauguration to see if their take on Mr. Trump had changed. It had not.

What is clear from both pieces of research is Canadians are split on how much they think Mr. Trudeau should engage Mr. Trump. There isn’t even consensus around the fundamental question of whether the Trudeau government should give the Trump White House the benefit of the doubt (44 per cent indicated the Trudeau government should not give the President the benefit of the doubt. This sentiment was up significantly from 32 per cent when we first asked pre-inauguration). This suggests that for the most part Canadians are trusting our government to make these decisions – so far. Any inconsistency or absence of communications on how the government is and will be engaging President Trump could result in escalating fear and decreasing confidence in the Trudeau government’s ability to represent the best interests of Canada and its citizens.

Similarly, Canadians are evenly split about whether Canada would be better off, essentially, waiting the President out; with 35 per cent expressing support for an approach that would see Canada avoid reaching major agreements on policy questions until Mr. Trump is gone, and 37 per cent holding the opposite view.

The research also shows Canadians are worried about the impact Mr. Trump’s presidency will have on Canada, and on key global issues. These results suggest a deep-seated concern – even fear – of what the Trump presidency means for nation-to-nation relations, progress on environmental issues, and overall peace and stability around the world. Our government will have to tread carefully when making decisions about when and how to engage the President on issues because they run the risk of exacerbating the fears many Canadians already have. The Prime Minister does not want to be seen as making a bad situation worse.

There are two exceptions, however. The research shows a strong majority of Canadians are holding fast to the notion that Canada honour its international climate change agreements, and there is significant support for renegotiating NAFTA.

On the broad question of engagement with the Trump administration around specific issues, we continue to see Canadians are divided on a wide range of questions.

As many in Canada (36 per cent) want Mr. Trudeau to move quickly on the Keystone XL Pipeline as do not (29 per cent) or are not sure (32 per cent).

About a third (35 per cent) would like to see Mr. Trudeau reduce corporate taxes in the event U.S. taxes are lowered, while 30 per cent say no, and 32 per cent are not sure.

Around four in 10 (43 per cent) want Mr. Trudeau to express concern to President Trump about the potential fate of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., while 30 per cent do not and one in five are not sure.

On Russia, about a third of Canada would like to see the Prime Minister supporting U.S. attempts at rapprochement with Russia (of note support for this position as dropped significantly from 40 per cent right after the U.S. election to 32 per cent in our most recent sounding).

And a plurality of Canadians would like to see Mr. Trudeau push back against any U.S. pressure to increase Canadian defense spending (44 per cent), compared to 27 per cent who oppose such a move.

It seems that in the wake of this first meeting between the leaders of our two countries they have carved out some safe space to start a relationship. There is no pressing on immigration, defense or talk of Russia, but there is real territory staked out. Territory which appears to be aligned with what Canadians want to see our Prime Minister pushing, namely trade and the environment, while speaking to areas where Canadians are concerned about Mr. Trump’s impact, in particular our economy and jobs in this country.

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Connect with the experts

Elliott Gauthier, VP, National Director
[Research + Measurement]
Jackie King, SVP, General manager
[Corporate communications]