“I learned a long time ago, a bad deal is far worse than no deal at all.” – Donald Trump, May 2015.
That was Trump one month before he entered the race for the White House.
Since he got there, he may have been erratic and inconsistent in many matters, but he has been perversely consistent on one front: his disdain for most of the international agreements he inherited from previous regimes.
Days after he settled in the Oval Office, he announced he was pulling the United States out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which had been negotiated during the term of Democrat Barack Obama. As Trump put it: “[The TPP is] a bad, bad deal for American businesses, for workers, for taxpayers. It’s a huge set of handouts for a few insiders that don’t even care about our great, great America.”
The TPP withdrawal set the theme and tone. Any agreement or treaty, multilateral or bilateral, is suspect if it was not negotiated by the Master of the Deal himself and does not, in his view, contribute to Making America Great Again.
He ignores the rules of the 164-nation World Trade Organization when he imposes punitive tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from Canada and other allies.
He pulls the United States of the Iran nuclear deal (formally, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) that it had signed with Iran and five other countries – a “horrible one-sided deal,” Trump declared.
He and his UN ambassador are threatening to withdraw from the 47-nation United Nations Human Rights Council.
Closer to home, Trump is prepared to trample on the Canada-U.S. auto pact, signed by Lester Pearson and Lyndon Johnson in 1965. He’s threatening to slap a 25 per cent duty on auto imports, a move that would devastate the Canadian industry and, according to experts, cost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the two countries.
And the survival of NAFTA itself is hanging by a thread, one that the Negotiator-in-Chief may cut at any moment without regard for the impact on his Canadian and Mexican partners.
Out of curiosity, I looked up other treaties that are outstanding between Canada and the United States. There are dozens upon dozens of them. They range from the 1796 Treaty of New York between the United States and the “Seven Nations of Canada” (under which Indigenous groups north of the border gave up their land claims in New York state) to the 1991 Air Quality Agreement (aka Acid Rain Treaty).
My favourite is the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842. It is best remembered as the controversial treaty that established the international border from Lake Superior to the Rockies.
But same treaty did something else: it officially ended the Aroostook War, a long-forgotten military engagement over the placement of the border between Maine and New Brunswick. A great little war, popularly known as the “Pork and Beans War,” it produced no fatalities at all – just two injuries, both on the British side.
On a more serious note, there is another Canada-U.S. treaty that is actually up for renegotiation right now. Trump may not be aware of it – which could be just as well.
This sleeping dog is the 1964 Columbia River Treaty. It governs the flow of water between the countries for purposes of flood control and hydro generation, as well irrigation and recreation.
Although the treaty has no expiry date, it provides for modification or termination at the 60-year mark, in 2024. Negotiations on modifications began three weeks ago.
It is a big political issue in the U.S. northwest. Canadian negotiators are resisting two primary American demands: to increase the flow of water south to the United States and to reduce the amount of electricity the U.S. sends north to Canada.
So far, no one has declared the Columbia River Treaty to be the worst deal ever made or to accuse British Columbians of stealing jobs from Pacific Northwesterners. But Donald Trump hasn’t weighed in – yet.