The Trump effect: How controversial president could alter Abbotsford

From trade to tourism to travel bans, Donald Trump's policies could have an impact on life in the Fraser Valley

U.S. President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump

You can see American territory from most of Abbotsford and visually, at least, little has changed since Donald Trump was elected as president. Cars, trains and trucks continue to pass through the Huntingdon border crossing. And there is no wall along Abbotsford’s long southern border with the United States.

Nevertheless, the effects of Trump’s election, and the policies he has pursued through his first two months in office, could have a significant impact in Abbotsford.

From trade to tourism to travel bans, Trump’s inward-looking focus has left some Abbotsford residents closely considering how the new U.S. government will effect them.

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For more than four years, until the ousting of the Conservative government in 2015, Abbotsford MP Ed Fast toured Canada and the globe as Minister of International Trade, pushing for more open trade between countries.

Even as recently as last year, he had expressed hope that anti-trade talk on the part of both Trump and Hillary Clinton was just posturing. But Trump’s words since his election has suggested that he, at least, was serious about overhauling the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and ditching the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a deal that Fast helped negotiate involving 12 countries, including Canada, the U.S. and 10 other Pacific Rim nations.

“What we have heard from Donald Trump and his representatives is simply that times have changed and Canada and Mexico are going to have to make concessions,” Fast said. “It sounds like a my-way-or-the-highway approach from Trump.”

The American trade relationship with Mexico has been Trump’s main NAFTA target, but there are also signs American politicians may push for changes to trade rules that affect several sectors that play a major role in Abbotsford’s economy. They include Canada’s supply management system, which includes significant tariffs on foreign poultry and dairy products.

Similarly, Trump has suggested he could impose tariffs on aerospace imports. Like many of his proposals, details have been scarce and it’s unclear whether Canada would be hit. But if it is, it would have a significant effect, with nearly half of all the country’s aerospace production exported to the U.S. and hundreds employed in the industry locally.

Even if the changes don’t come to pass, the uncertainty “doesn’t bode well,” said Fast, who said Canada should have insisted that it wouldn’t agree to touch NAFTA. The one bright spot, he noted, is that Canada has a chance to take the lead on promoting free trade.

Some businesspeople, though, remain hopeful that trade changes won’t be as dramatic as some have suggested.

John Mathews, president of Abbotsford’s Dynamic Windows and Doors, which makes products for the luxury home market and exports the vast majority of its goods, said he hopes that before tearing up NAFTA, Americans will realize that Canada is an important trading partner that also buys billions of dollars in U.S. goods.

A bigger challenge for Mathews’ company has been finding the right workers, he said. For years, one solution has been hiring immigrants. Currently, the company employs around 80 refugees.

“We look for people who are motivated to work and want to provide for their families.”

Trump, though, has taken a different view on such newcomers, leaving some Abbotsford residents reconsidering whether they want to cross the border.

A revised travel ban to temporarily forbid people from six different Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. was struck down by a judge Wednesday night.

But if it does eventually take effect, members of Abbotsford’s significant Iranian community would be impacted, and local Muslims from non-affected countries have also said they may alter their plans rather than possibly encounter discrimination at the border.

Some local non-Muslims are also thinking twice about heading stateside, according to respondents on The News’ Facebook page.

Linda Wilson wrote that she and her husband decided to forego their normal Arizona vacation this year.

“We are British and Canadian descent and are not part of the travel ban; however in support of those people that are affected and the distaste we have regarding the mentality of a lot of Trump supporters, we are very happy to stay at home and leave our dollars in Canada that we normally spend,” she wrote.

That view was shared by several other commenters, but many others said they wouldn’t be changing their plans. Click here to see other comments.

Beyond Trump’s presidency, the weak Canadian dollar – and even the snow – may be having even more of an impact.

Bob Bromley, the mayor of Sumas, Wash., said business seems to be slower south of the border, but that the wintry weather and the weak loonie could be to blame.

While border crossings are down from a year ago, the trend pre-dates Trump’s election.

Earlier this week, Girl Guides of Canada said they would stop travelling to the United States for events over fears that some members would be stopped from crossing the border.

Local school sports teams, though, say they haven’t reconsidered their travel plans, although the number of such trips has been decreasing prior to Trump’s election.

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While some Canadian jurisdictions have seen a dramatic increase in the number of refugees crossing the border on foot to seek asylum, Abbotsford does not seem to have seen any such jump. Const. Ian MacDonald said data reviewed by the Abbotsford Police Department showed no increase in border jumpers in the area from 2015 to 2016 and to the end of February 2017.

However, he said there have been “a couple more” in the last week, but it will be another month or two before the data will be reviewed again to determine whether the rates are now going up.