It was anyone’s Senate going into the election on Tuesday. With the Republicans defending 24 seats, and the Democrats just 10, five of which they needed to win, the odds, by some estimates, were in the Democrats’ favour. But after the shocking result of the presidential vote, the fact that the GOP maintained control over the chamber inspires little surprise, or reaction in general.
While the ramifications of a Republican Senate and House of Representatives (which was never really within the Democrats’ grasp) may seem trivial compared to having Trump as commander in chief, it’s not. With a Republican Congress backing him (most items need 60% support to pass in the Senate), Trump will be in a position to reverse trade agreements, immigration policies, Roe V. Wade, the Iran nuclear deal, and any other policy the party takes issue with—including those that impact how Canadians do business with the United States. The Democrats’ only defence, in many instances, may be the threat of a filibuster.
Meanwhile, the Republican party also gained more governorships this week, flipping three states previously held by Democrats. This is less consequential in terms of its potential to push forward Trump’s agenda; governors have sway over state bills, not federal legislation. According to Christopher Sands, senior professor and director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, having a majority of Republican governors may even be good for Canadian business. “They tend to be pro business, pro trade, pro energy,” says Sands. “Canadians might not like them as politicians—they may not vote for them because they’re too conservative on social issues—but they’re not the kind of governors that make trouble for Canada.”
Troubling or not, here’s how a few contentious down ballot races played out in yesterday’s election, and what the results could mean for Canadian businesses.
Ohio Senate Race
Republican senator since 2011, Rob Portman is worth keeping an eye on. While he had a big part in keeping the Senate under GOP control, he may also be one of the few voices in the chamber willing to vote against Trump’s policies. He distanced his campaign from Trump’s on issues of trade and foreign policy. The former U.S. Trade Representative signed NAFTA, which he more recently called a “mixed bag” in referring to its success, and he voted to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “He’s a strong voice for free trade,” Sands said in an interview before the election, adding that Portman may be a key voice for Canadian interests when Trump takes TPP back to the table.
Vermont Governor’s Race
Republican Phil Scott took the governor’s seat on Tuesday. He replaced Democrat Peter Shumlin, who decided not to run following a number of failed plans for the state, including for green energy and healthcare. Losing Shumlin is seen as a blow for Canadian businesses, particularly in Quebec, where the former governor had cultivated important ties around strengthening trade and inter-regional business. Sue Mintor, who ran against Scott as a Democrat, was a former transportation secretary for Shumlin and would have likely maintained the relationships Shumlin forged with Canada—with Scott’s governorship, those cross-border ties are now up in the air.
North Carolina Governor’s Race
Democratic candidate Roy Cooper has claimed victory in this race, but as of Friday morning Republican Pat McCrory had not conceded and the result had not been officially recognized; with a 5,000 vote margin out of 4.7 million votes cast, the Associated Press reported it could be late next week before the winner is officially known. A Cooper win is potentially good news for Canadian businesses that have significant presence in the state (there are over 180 in Charlotte and Raleigh alone). A main point of contention in the race was the state’s stance on the “bathroom bill” which denies transgender people the right to use the bathroom of their choice. More than 200 companies with operations in the state denounced McCrory for signing the bill, and threatened to take their business elsewhere if it wasn’t repealed. Cooper campaigned against the law and promised to scrap it should he be elected governor.
Washington Governor’s Race
Incumbent Democratic governor Jay Inslee was re-elected in the border state, giving businesses on Canada’s west coast hope in a renewed partnership with their neighbour to the south. After neglecting a long-held annual tradition of meeting with British Columbia’s premier, Inslee has recently rekindled that alliance, pushing plans to create an “innovation corridor” between Seattle and Vancouver. According to Sands, he could also be good news for Canada when it comes to renegotiating the softwood lumber agreement that expired in October. “I can see Inslee and Oregon’s governor [Kate Brown] helping to push for a regulation that helps both Canadian and U.S. sides.”