Why you should care
Because this election cycle could be in for one heck of an October surprise.
It’s the kind of sea change that would make any politician cringe: that moment in the final weeks of an election fight when supporters suddenly flee following a major news event or campaign shake-up. In the U.S., it’s known as the October surprise. In Canada, one such event became “the final nail on the coffin of my campaign,” says former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, who’s now chair of an advisory board overseeing a new process for appointing justices to the Supreme Court of Canada.
In this condensed and edited conversation, Campbell discusses her own election downfall along with what could surprise the U.S. contest — and what isn’t being discussed by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as they both attack major trade deals involving Campbell’s country.
OZY: When you were prime minister and in an election battle in 1993, was there the equivalent of an “October surprise” or an issue that emerged?
Kim Campbell: My campaign released some negative ads about my opponent, Jean Chrétien, that were seen as making fun of a slight physical nerve problem in his face, where when he smiles his mouth is asymmetrical. It took me a whole day to see the ads. That was sort of the final nail on the coffin of my campaign, although the underlying structure of our coalition had fallen apart before we even called an election.
The problem with terrorism is it’s very hard to predict. I think that could play into a lot of Trump’s support. It could be helpful.
OZY: Is there something that could rock the race as we look to the final months of the U.S. election?
K.C.: If there are terrorist attacks. I think intelligent people think Clinton is able to deal with that as well as anyone else; she was part of the government and the administration that went after Osama bin Laden. The problem with terrorism is it’s very hard to predict. I think that could play into a lot of Trump’s support. It could be helpful.
Clinton has been trying to undermine Trump in her ads, and certainly the Republican national security people have come out very clearly and said he’s not the person to lead the country. Now, in fairness, he comes back and says, These are the people who brought us into Iraq. That’s the problem: When you make mistakes, they do come back to haunt you.
OZY: Let’s turn to trade. What’s your take on Trump threatening to renegotiate different deals, including, as he’s said, a “total renegotiation” of NAFTA?
K.C.: Obviously, it’s a concern. Countries have to be as good as their word. That’s why getting Americans signed up to an agreement is only the first step, because they’re always looking for ways around it if they think it doesn’t work for them under political pressure. The fact of the matter is these trade deals are good for both the United States and Canada. It’s the world’s largest bilateral trading relationship.
You cannot make trade relationships based on sentimentality. There is an underlying economic rationale that either makes economic relationships work or not work in terms of your ability to be competitive on what you’re exporting and being able to afford what you’re importing. So for Trump to uproot that would be incredibly destructive for Canada. But that’s why he is a vandal, because he talks as if it’s about his personal view on whether these things should be done. There’s no respect for what goes into creating these deals. I think he has the capacity to wreak havoc.
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) August 17, 2016
OZY: And what do you think about Clinton’s stance on trade deals?
K.C.: I’m sorry she’s backed off on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I hope she’s opened the door to supporting it if she can clarify certain points about it, because it is not trade that’s killing the economy. Yes, it does have an impact — it’s not a perfect panacea. But what’s really changing the economy is technology.
American manufacturing is very high, but it doesn’t employ a lot of people anymore because it’s highly automated. It’s like agriculture. What has been the failure of government, and we even know this in Canada with the Free Trade Agreements, is that while free trade is good, there has to be follow-up to protect the inevitable losers of a more open trade regime. You need to make the changes that make your economy competitive, but what people don’t see are the people who lose their jobs because of protectionism, the businesses that don’t ever get started or the opportunities that never exist.