Inauguration to usher in a 'ringmaster president' and much uncertainty: Chris Hall

Donald Trump, the candidate who campaigned as the political outsider, the candidate beholden to no one, is now one step away from the White House. The head of a family empire turned leader of the free world is at this point because he campaigned in absolutes.

Because it's Donald J. Trump, everything will be different. Hold on tight

Buttons for sale are posted as preparations continue for Friday's inauguration of Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

Donald Trump is a day removed from becoming the 45th president of the United States, swept to power on a wave of voter disenchantment with politics as usual in Washington and a staunch belief that Trump's boast of making America great again is something real.

The candidate who campaigned as the political outsider, the candidate beholden to no one, is now one step away from the White House. The head of a family empire turned leader of the free world is at this point because he campaigned in absolutes.

Think back to his campaign. Trump promised to rip up trade deals and impose punishing tariffs on countries that take jobs and investment from America.

He said he'll take the United States out of the Paris climate change agreement and rebuild the U.S. coal industry.

He'll deport millions of illegal immigrants.

Nothing in his campaign message was ever nuanced, even if the details of how he'll do these things once in office remain largely absent. What pass for policy statements since he won the election last November have to be gleaned from his staccato bursts on Twitter, fleshed out by his various cabinet nominees during their confirmation hearings this week and last.

All kinds of uncertainty

Whether Trump governs in the same style as he campaigned is far from certain. It's equally unclear what his presidency will mean for relations with American friends and allies, including Canada.

Shirts for sale are displayed as visitors begin to arrive for the inauguration. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

And it's causing all kinds of uncertainty, says Scotty Greenwood, senior adviser to the Canadian-American Business Council and one of Washington's leading experts on relations between the two countries.

And it boils down to one thing.

"Because it's Donald J. Trump everything is different," she says in her K Street office not far from the White House. "This is a guy who campaigned against the party for which he was seeking the nomination. Everything he did was against conventional wisdom. He didn't listen to political advisers. He went with his gut and it got him here.

"Washington is inside out."

Welcome to the circus

Former Canadian diplomat Paul Fraser calls Trump the "ringmaster president" who says what he wants, and may just do what he wants as soon as he's settled in the White House.

But Fraser also sees opportunity for Canada because Trump's focus on the great American middle class isn't all that different from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's own platform.

"If you look at what brought both of them to power, they have a lot in common in that regard. I know it's a mantra from years ago in Canada, but jobs, jobs, jobs is actually a serious reference point,'' he says on CBC's The House podcast. On Wednesday.

"That is very much at the heart when the president-elect talks about jobs and economic development in regions — this is all very much in synch with the prime minister's efforts and proposals."

Shadows are cast on the Washington Monument as preparations continue for Friday's inauguration. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

The danger, though, is that Canada becomes collateral damage in Trump's determination to punish companies that move jobs to Mexico, or China, says Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington.

She'll be listening closely to Trump's inaugural address on Friday for clues to what kind of president he intends to be.  

"I'm looking for a clearer sense of his direction. I think in getting elected, a lot of rhetoric, a lot of extreme statements… that's what he needed to appeal to his base. But what I've seen in some of his preliminary statements is a much more measured approach, and I'd like to see more of that to really understand better, if not how he's going to relate with Canada, but how he's going to work with his global allies."

'No one really knows what's going on'

Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota has been receiving delegations all week: mayors from his home state; people coming by to pick up tickets to Friday's inauguration; and a small delegation of Canadians.

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose and MP Randy Hoback met with Hoeven on Wednesday to emphasize the importance of the Canada-U.S. relationship and to express their concerns about Trump's support for a border adjustment tax on a wide array of imports, including Canadian oil. If adopted, the tax would increase the cost of imported goods by 25 per cent.

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"No one really knows what's going on," she says, before being whisked off to another meeting somewhere in the marble office buildings of the Senate.

Ambrose isn't alone, of course, in wondering what Trump will do. Or whether he's even aware of the impact his promises could have on Canada.

Hoeven, a staunch supporter of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline that would carry Alberta bitumen and North Dakota Bakken crude to refineries on the U.S. Gulf coast, says he doesn't know if he "specifically referenced Canada" in any of his discussions with Trump. "But I will," he says after meeting Ambrose.

Like most border states, North Dakota depends heavily on trade with Canada for energy and agricultural and other products. Tens of thousands of jobs in his state depend on that trade and Canadian investment.

"We'll try and continue to make sure the flow of people and goods is something we promote and make easy to do. Again, we have such a special and unique — and wonderful — relationship."

Asked if he thinks the president-elect understands that, Hoeven's answer sounds like he's solemnizing a marriage.

"I do."

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