Canada allowed itself a moment of jubilation on Saturday after Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential election marked the end of four often bruising years with Donald Trump, but the new president’s agenda means that challenges lie ahead.
“I look forward to working with President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris, their administration, and the United States Congress as we tackle the world’s greatest challenges together,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said shortly after several networks declared Biden the winner.
Trudeau was one of the first world leaders to Tweet his congratulations to the president-elect.
Ottawa, traditionally a close U.S. ally, found itself pummeled by Trump, who called Trudeau “very dishonest and weak,” slapped tariffs on Canadian metals exports and threatened to scrap a continental trade deal that underpins Canada’s economic prosperity.
Canada’s ruling center-left Liberals have generally had good relations with Democratic administrations in recent decades, but Biden’s principal policies could pose major problems for Canada and Trudeau.
“A Biden victory would mean smoother relations with the United States … It would be more respectful and that alone would be an improvement,” said Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Trudeau.
“Having said that, the United States has not only become more inward looking, but has also become more protectionist.”
Biden promises a “Buy America” push to spend $400 billion on U.S.-made goods. This could harm Canada since its economy is highly integrated with that of the United States, which takes 75% of all Canadian goods exports.
A similar U.S. provision in the wake of the 2007-2009 financial crisis sparked a clash with Ottawa, forcing Canada to go through a lengthy process to secure waivers allowing its companies to take part in U.S. federal procurement contracts. Biden was vice-president in the Obama administration for eight years starting in January 2009.
“(Canada) has to appeal to America’s self-interest … and make the case that the less competitive your procurement is, probably the more costly it might be,” said Mark Agnew, head of international policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
A mid-sized power devoted to multilateralism, Canada found itself isolated as Trump distanced himself from the United Nations, the World Health Organization, NATO and the World Trade Organization.
Canadian officials say they hope Biden will quickly start to repair the damage. In particular, Canada wants more U.S. cooperation as it bids to pressure China to change its policy on detaining foreigners.
In an incident Ottawa calls “hostage diplomacy,” Beijing arrested two Canadian men in 2018, shortly after Vancouver police detained Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.’s Chinese Chief Financial Officer on a U.S. warrant.
Biden has outlined a $2 trillion plan of environmental investments and other measures that “would leave Canada basically in the dust,” according to Keith Stewart, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada.
Canada, a major energy exporter with no chance of meeting its 2030 climate goals, may have to boost a price on carbon that is already unpopular in some parts of the country, and put more money into electric vehicles.
Biden is also looking at imposing a carbon adjustment tax on imports from nations deemed not to be doing enough to fight climate change.
“He is aiming for the moon with his green plan and we have to be along for the ride, we can’t just go half way,” said a Canadian government source, noting that the Democrats would first have to retake the Senate to implement the entire plan.
But Kergin, Paris and others predict Biden is likely to find his time dominated by domestic challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic and race relations.
“I think there’s a danger in overestimating just how internationally focused a new Democratic administration would become,” Gerry Butts, Trudeau’s former chief adviser, told a Huffington Post Canada webcast.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Steve Scherer and Howard Goller)
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