It can be disconcerting for Canadians following the U.S. election to hear the candidates talk about renegotiating NAFTA or withholding NATO support unless members vastly increase their defence spending.

Given her decades in politics, it's likely easier to predict what Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would do as president than Republican nominee Donald Trump. breaks down the impact her policies could have on Canada, and how they compare to those of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The economy

With $2.4 billion in goods and services exchanged every day between Canada and the U.S., the potential effect on the economy is likely the greatest concern for Canadian policymakers.

The North American Free Trade Agreement governs much of that business, with a dozen Pacific Rim countries looking to the possibility of an even more ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership. Both deals have had a starring role in the debate about U.S. economic policy.

Clinton criticized NAFTA in her first run for the democratic nomination in 2007-08, and has been critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership - after calling it the "gold standard" early in negotiations. But a leaked email released earlier this month through a campaign hacking suggests she's warmer to free trade than she admits. In an excerpt from a 2013 speech to a Brazilian bank, Clinton says her "dream" is "a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders."

Clinton's private position more closely mirrors Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's position than do her public pronouncements. Trudeau - and U.S. President Barack Obama - both spoke strongly in favour of free trade during the North American Leaders' Summit last June. Trudeau has frequently said export-intensive industries pay higher wages than non-export industries and that people benefit from free trade.

Canada-U.S. trade map HILLARY CLINTON

SOURCE: Global Affairs Canada and, based on data from October 25, 2016. (Tahiat Mahboob)

Joy Nott, president of the Canadian Association of Importers & Exporters, says it's not unusual to hear NAFTA or free trade come up during an election.

"The fact that NAFTA's being discussed in a U.S. election: not new and not terribly unnerving because it's been talked about a lot and then whoever is elected gets elected, and then they enter the White House, and NAFTA is never touched."

Moreover, Nott points out, to change NAFTA, the president would need Congress behind him or her.

Clinton has proposed having a trade enforcer to make sure the detailed regulations are carefully followed and to punish any rulebreakers, but Nott said the U.S. has always enforced its rules pretty strictly.

"Could they potentially become more active in enforcing and auditing and that kind of stuff? Yeah, they could, but they're already quite active in that area," she said.

Former foreign affairs minister John Baird, however, sounded a more warning tone.

In an interview with Don Martin, host of CTV’s Power Play, Baird said Clinton supports a strong relationship with Canada, but Congress is increasingly protectionist.

"A more inward-looking landscape will make it really hard even for a President Clinton to tackle trade irritants where their predecessors might have been able to," he said.

"You could see an increasingly protectionist tone from Washington that could reverberate around the world."

Climate change

It's hard to talk about Canada-U.S. economic issues without referring to TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline extension, the permit for which President Barack Obama denied 11 months ago.

While then-secretary of state Clinton said in 2010 that she was inclined to approve the Keystone XL pipeline extension, she announced last fall that she had changed her mind and opposed it. It would likely be harder for her to revert back and approve it as president, analysts say, given the late-stage support she received from former rival Bernie Sanders.

Hillary Clinton

"It might have been easier a year or two ago for her to endorse Keystone than it would be today," said Mark Cameron, executive director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity.

"But after the election, particularly if the Republicans still control the Congress, it's the kind of thing that you could possibly see a compromise occurring on."

Clinton's environment platform bears similarities to that proposed by Trudeau's Liberal Party. Both discuss the need to invest in clean energy to create good-paying jobs, end subsidies to oil and gas companies, and limit emissions. Clinton is likely to maintain the course set by Obama on climate change, including implementing the clean power plan that's currently making its way through American courts. Trudeau, meanwhile, promised to work with the U.S. and Mexico to "develop an ambitious North American clean energy and environmental agreement."

Cameron says the clean power plan would look a lot like carbon pricing for the electricity sector, if it's fully implemented.

"That would probably open up discussion about how Canada and the U.S. can cooperate more on carbon pricing," said Cameron, who has political expertise as a staffer in former prime minister Stephen Harper's office.


Despite serving as secretary of state in the Obama administration, Clinton is widely expected to take a stronger stance on foreign policy than the outgoing president. For those trying to read tea leaves, her time as secretary of state and her record as a public figure over the last 25 years suggest a President Clinton would probably be more interventionist than Obama has been, says Thomas Juneau, assistant professor of the University of Ottawa's graduate school of public and international affairs.

Nato Allies Defence Spending

SOURCE: World Bank, Military expenditure (% of GDP) 2015. (Tahiat Mahboob)

"That means Syria, that means the Middle East as a whole and that means overall," said Juneau, whose research focuses on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy in the region.

"As secretary of state she favoured a no-fly zone over certain parts of Syria. That's a very, very complicated intervention," he said. "What would the U.S. ask of its allies? What would Canada do, politically, diplomatically, militarily?"

While Clinton's national security plan calls for an intensified coalition air campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, Trudeau pulled Canadian fighter jets out of the mission. The Liberals instead increased the number of Canadian trainers and added three helicopters and an intelligence centre to the mission.

Canada could also face pressure to increase its defence spending - a call Obama made in person during a visit to Ottawa last June, but one Clinton would likely make more aggressively, Juneau said.

Canada currently spends one per cent of its GDP on its defence budget, although NATO countries have pledged to spend two per cent.

Still, Juneau says, "it's a safe assumption that a Clinton presidency would be more consistent with most Canadian interests than a Trump one."

Graphic design by Tahiat Mahboob