Image credit: Force Ten Design
by Colin Robertson
CGAI Vice-President & Fellow
Table of Contents
- If Trump Wins
- If Biden Wins
- China and COVID
- Further Sources
- About the Author
- Canadian Global Affairs Institute
That Nov. 3 is the “most consequential” U.S. election in our lifetime is likely correct and not just for Americans. If it’s four more years of Donald Trump, then the preppers and survivalists may be on to something. Whatever and whenever the results, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is right to say that Canada needs to be “ready for all outcomes”.
Canada’s relationship with the U.S. is the consequential one. NORAD safeguards our security, although whoever forms the next administration is going to press us to invest in a new North Warning System and to increase our defence spending to the NATO target of two per cent of GDP (we currently spend 1.3 per cent). The new Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade agreement (CUSMA) guarantees access to what is still the biggest market in the world and the preferred entry point for fledgling Canadian exporters. Our shared environment is managed through a web of agreements dating back to the Boundary Waters Treaty and the International Joint Commission (1909).
Despite the asymmetries of power, with care and constant attention we have mostly enjoyed a remarkable partnership that is the envy of other nations. It also leverages our diplomacy. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney described it best: “Canada’s influence in the world is measured to a significant degree by the extent to which we are perceived as having real influence in Washington.”
Geopolitics’ shifting tides suggest that the U.S. is in relative decline and certainly its handling of COVID has shaken global confidence. Although Trump has damaged the American brand, the U.S. still enjoys considerable hard and soft power. Canada cannot change its geography, nor would we want to. So, we need to keep investing in our most important relationship, no matter who is president.
After the duelling town halls (Oct.15), the Daily Beast headline caught the zeitgeist of the campaign: “The Biden and Trump Shows: It’s Mr. Rogers vs. ‘Someone’s Crazy Uncle’.” For Trump, re-election will be a reaffirmation of “America First”, but unlike 2016 when he campaigned on themes like “Build the Wall”, “Repeal NAFTA” and “Drain the Swamp”, the platform this time is essentially “More Trump” with his transactional approach to issues and those transactions must serve his domestic priorities.
The Trudeaus and Trumps in the Oval Office 2017 Source PMO
Trump has revolutionized personal diplomacy through his constant tweets. They have obliged foreign ministries to set up 24/7 Trump watches. It has been a revolving door for those minding his national security, defence and foreign policies. Despite its incoherence and unpredictability, Trump’s view of the world remains that set out in his inaugural address:
For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own. And spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon … From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.
And as he told West Point graduates in June:
We are restoring the fundamental principles that the job of the American soldier is not to rebuild foreign nations, but defend – and defend strongly – our nation from foreign enemies. We are ending the era of endless wars. In its place is a renewed, clear-eyed focus on defending America’s vital interests. It is not the duty of U.S. troops to solve ancient conflicts in faraway lands that many people have never even heard of. We are not the policemen of the world.
We can expect withdrawals from more multilateral organizations, starting with the World Trade Organization (WTO). He also promises to let lapse the New START accord, which limited the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by the United States and Russia. He has tried to reduce U.S. contributions to the UN – U.S. funding accounts for close to 1/5 of the UN budget – but Congress has sustained the U.S. support. Trump’s speeches at the UN have been bombastic and defiantly unilateralist. His debut speech (2017) to UNGA was an ode to sovereignty, telling delegates that “our success depends on a coalition of strong, independent nations that embrace their sovereignty, to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world.”
Alliances don’t figure much in the Trump world view. As two of his principal advisors, H.R. McMaster and Gary D. Cohn, phrased it in the Wall Street Journal (May 2017): “The world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”
Trump claims, falsely, that the WTO takes advantage of the U.S. For Canada, which is leading efforts to reform WTO dispute settlement, a second Trump administration means the threat of more tariffs – blueberries may be next – and quota arrangements, whether formal as with autos or informal as with aluminum.
In her confirmation testimony in July before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ambassador-designate Aldona Wos identified the priority areas for Canada-U.S. international focus as cyber-China, Russia/Ukraine, Iran, Venezuela, counterterrorism, cyber-security and 5G network standards, peacekeeping and the Arctic.
A Trump administration devoted to further deregulation, fossil fuel exploitation and lower taxes also presents complications for Canada. It will be hard to square competitiveness with a green shift and social justice redistribution if the U.S. is headed in the opposite direction. We also need to keep in mind that Republicans and Democrats see the world and its threats differently.
Life for Canada would be easier with a Joe Biden administration. An internationalist, as vice-president he told the World Economic Forum three days before leaving office in 2017 that “for the past seven decades, the choices we have made – particularly the United States and our allies in Europe – have steered our world down a clear path. In recent years, it has become evident that the consensus upholding this system is facing increasing pressures, from within and from without. It’s imperative that we act urgently to defend the liberal international order.”
Justin Trudeau and Joe Biden 2016 Source PMO
It’s a theme Biden returned to in his 2019 speeches at the Munich Security Conference (February) and at CUNY New York (July). At Munich he promised that the “America I see does not wish to turn our back to the world or our allies. The America I see – and I mean this from the bottom of my heart – cherishes the free press, democracy, the rule of law.” In New York he promised “to once more place America at the head of the table, leading the world to address the most urgent global challenges” by using multilateralism and valuing democratic allies like Canada.
There is a tendency to assume Americans have slipped into a Trumpian isolationism but a recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, tracking American attitudes for decades, says Americans remain supportive of an active U.S. role in the world. Solid majorities support U.S. security alliances and free trade as the best ways to maintain peace and prosperity. In his July 2019 foreign policy speech, he committed to a summit of democracies modelled on Obama’s nuclear security summits, where leaders would commit to strengthening democracy at home and overseas and “make concrete commitments to take on corruption and advance human rights in their own nations.”
Biden would come to office with the most foreign policy experience of any president since John Quincy Adams, although former Defense secretary and CIA director Robert Gates caustically writes in his memoir that Biden has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Biden will also be able to draw on formidable talent well versed in national security– veterans of the Obama and Clinton administrations – as well as Republicans who declared Mr. Trump “unfit” and support Mr. Biden (and we can be sure smart embassies are reaching out to those on these lists). There is also a major rebuilding job within the professional ranks of the demoralized US Foreign Service.
On Russia, Biden would align more with the rest of the G7 in seeing Russian revanchism with its immediate neighbours and mischief-making in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and through cyber-subversion and disinformation. Biden “will confront Russian aggression from a position of strength, even as we work to maintain strategic stability.” He also promises to “reassess” the Saudi Arabia “and US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil.” Even before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi-Canada relations have been strained on human rights issues.
Biden’s first priority must be a daunting domestic agenda, starting with COVID recovery, along with his commitments to such issues as clean energy, immigration reform and action on social and racial justice. His social justice and green and clean energy policies align with those of the Trudeau government.
Canada needs to leverage off this domestic agenda and identify the natural fits. “Building back better” and the trillion-dollar infrastructure plan come with the protectionist promise of “Buy American.” We need to persuade Biden of the benefits of continental collaboration on resilient, clean infrastructure, including our shared network of pipelines and electrical grids. As reports from Harvard’s Belfer Center and the Council on Foreign Relations underline, this will guarantee both dependable supply chains and mutual prosperity.
The new North American trade accord includes a competitiveness committee that we need to activate and harness for continuous improvements. Voters tell pollsters that they expect a fairer distribution of the gains of globalization, including accountability for the environment and human rights. Why not start in North America?
Biden has set himself a big agenda. It is hard to run too many things through the U.S. system at once. However, Biden’s Senate experience (1973-2009) and then as vice-president (2009-16) chairing both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees means he knows how to legislate and get it done.
The separation of powers means that even if the Democrats control both chambers in Congress as Bill Clinton did in 1992 and Barack Obama did in 2008, they need to focus on a few priorities, starting with recovery and reform at home. As Biden wrote in a 2017 New York Times op-ed: “In over 45 years of working in global affairs, I’ve observed a simple truth: America’s ability to lead the world depends not just on the example of our power, but on the power of our example.”
Getting time with a new administration is always difficult, so we need to go in with solutions rather than complaints. While Biden threatens to scuttle the Keystone pipeline, we must avoid making it a litmus test of the relationship and instead work it out.
It helps that Biden likes Trudeau. After the 2016 election, Biden publicly called on him to be a defender of the “liberal international order”. While we can count on Trudeau to rekindle the relationship, our premiers and legislators need to continue their own outreach to their American counterparts. The premiers played a critical role in persuading their gubernatorial counterparts to sign on to a reciprocity agreement on procurement in the Obama administration infrastructure program as part of the recovery from the 2008-9 recession.
No matter who forms the next administration, managing China will stay in the president’s inbox. With Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig held hostage since Canada proceeded with the extradition request for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in December 2019, we have real stakes in this file.
After imposing tariffs on China, Trump tried the carrot of a trade deal and a personal relationship with President Xi Jinping. He now blames China for the “China virus” pandemic and is confronting Chinese aggressiveness around Taiwan and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific. The rising Chinese threat is reflected in current U.S. strategic doctrine, the National Security Strategy (2017), which describes China as a revisionist power wanting “to erode American security and prosperity” and “shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests.” The Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy (2018) describes China as a “strategic competitor” that seeks “Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.” In his speech, “Communist China and the Free World’s Future” (July, 2020), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said engagement was a failure and China is pursuing its“decades-long desire for global hegemony of Chinese communism.”
While the tone will be different, Biden and Congress will be tough with China on trade issues like intellectual property and forced technology transfers, on Chinese infringements of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong, and on human rights issues like repression of the Uighurs. But again, Biden looks to collective action, writing in Foreign Affairs that “the most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations, even as we seek to cooperate with Beijing on issues where our interests converge.”
Surveys across the democracies indicate increasingly negative attitudes toward China, and in foreign ministries the policy debate on China is resetting from engagement to containment. Canadian attitudes have shown a similar shift toward distrust of China. Where once Canada aimed at comprehensive engagement, Trudeau now speaks of Chinese “coercive diplomacy” and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan talks of “hostage diplomacy”.
Whoever forms the next administration faces a world ravaged by COVID. The World Bank warns that the pandemic is relegating 150 million people to extreme poverty. Trudeau has championed COVID support for the developing world. So why not offer to work with the next administration around the delivery of vaccines that only the U.S. military can achieve, and then on community health drawing on Canadian experience?
Whoever forms the next administration also faces formidable financial challenges. At 17.9 per cent of GDP in FY 2020 the U.S. federal deficit is almost twice as large than at the worst of the 2009 Great Recession. The federal debt, measured against the size of the economy, is larger than at any time since the Second World War. Interest on the debt is greater than the budgets of Homeland Security, State, Commerce, Education, Energy, HUD, Interior and Justice.
The “golden rule” of Canada-U.S. relations is very simple Brian Mulroney astutely observed: “We can disagree without being disagreeable. The Americans are very important to us. We know they are, notwithstanding the differences, our best ally, our closest neighbour, our biggest customer.” Relationships matter and it starts at the top with the prime minister and president.
If the Trudeau-Obama relationship was characterized as a ‘bromance’ it has been much more difficult with Mr. Trump who seems to prefer dealing with despots rather than democrats. Probably the low point of the Trudeau-Trump personal relationship came at the end of the G7 summit in Charlevoix (June, 2018) when Trump repudiated U.S. signature to the summit communique and tweeted that Trudeau was “so meek and mild…very dishonest & weak”. That Trudeau has restored the personal relationship is a tribute to his perseverance and reflective of another Mulroney observation that the most important relationship for any Canadian prime minister is that with the U.S. president.
When prime ministers and presidents meet, they usually begin their discussions with the big picture: the geostrategic issues of international peace and security, finance and economics, climate and migration. Then they turn to the bilateral, usually conveniently sorted into three big baskets: defence and security; trade and the border; energy, environment and climate.
Defence and Security: Our military, law enforcement and security agencies all work closely together. The U.S. is our principal ally through a series of agreements dating back to before the Second World War, of which the most important is the 1958 bi-national North American Aerospace Defence Agreement (NORAD). The only bi-national military command in the world covers air and maritime defence. We are also jointly committed to collective security through NATO (1949) with a Canadian battle group in Latvia (since 2017) and fighter jets, frigates and submarines patrolling the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and Central and Eastern Europe. Canada and the U.S. share intelligence through the Five Eyes nations group.
Trade and the Border: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 400,000 people and $US2 billion worth of goods and services crossed our borders daily. The border has been closed since March; how and when it will reopen is yet to be determined. Canada is the largest market for export goods for over 30 states. The United States is Canada’s most important trading partner by a wide margin and it is characterized by heavily integrated supply chains, notably in auto manufacturing. According to the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. goods and services trade with Canada totalled an estimated $718.5 billion in 2018. Exports were $363.8 billion; imports were $354.7 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $9.1 billion in 2018. According to the Department of Commerce, U.S. exports of goods and services to Canada supported an estimated 1.6 million jobs in 2015. Canadian estimates of jobs generated in the U.S. through our bilateral trade tally almost 9 million, while 1.9 million Canadian jobs are related to Canada’s exports to the U.S.
Approximately 75 per cent of our exports go to the U.S. and the U.S. accounts for about 51 per cent of our imports. In 2019, the United States was the recipient of more than one-third of our foreign investment and accounted for about half of our foreign direct investment. The United States remains Canada’s main investment partner. Successive Canadian governments, dating back before Confederation, have consistently sought rules-based commercial agreements of which the 2020 CUSMA is but the latest iteration. Our deep economic integration gives us privileged, but not always secure, access to the biggest market in the world. It requires a permanent campaign by all levels of government in tandem with business, labour and civil society to fend off the forces of protectionism at the local, county, state and national levels.
Energy, Environment and Climate: The energy relationship is vital to both countries – electricity generated in Quebec literally lights up Broadway. Canada is the largest source of U.S. energy imports and the second-largest destination for U.S. energy exports. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, in 2019 energy accounted for US$85 billion, or 27 per cent, of the value of all U.S. imports from Canada. Crude oil and petroleum products accounted for 91 per cent of the value of U.S. energy imports from Canada and 89 per cent of the value of U.S. energy exports to Canada. The United States exported US$23 billion worth of crude oil, petroleum products, natural gas and electricity to Canada in 2019, about eight per cent of the value of all U.S. exports to Canada. The Canadian and U.S. electricity grid is deeply integrated with more than 30 major transmission arteries connecting all contiguous Canadian provinces to neighbouring U.S. states.
Source: Natural Resources Canada
We share joint stewardship for our environment and lead the world in innovative cross-border practices. The Boundary Waters Treaty (1909) established the International Joint Commission that tends to the shared waters along our 5,525-mile-long border. The Great Lakes, with almost 20 per cent of global fresh water, receive special attention. Commitments to protect aquatic habitats, curb invasive species and help coastal communities adapt to climate change were added in 2012 to the 1972 Water Quality Agreement. The rigorous negotiations around the Canada-U.S. Acid Rain Treaty (1991) and the multilateral Montreal Protocol on the ozone layer (1987) serve as a model for how we deal with climate change. Canada and the U.S. are also members of the Arctic Council, established in Canada in 1996 with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration.
Canada in the U.S.: In addition to our embassy in Washington, we have 12 consulates-general throughout the U.S. A number of the provinces also have U.S.-based representatives. Given the depth and importance of our trade and investment, we should have a Canadian presence in every state to act as our eyes, ears and voice. With well over a million star-spangled Canadians living and working in the U.S., we need to rethink how we do business, including making greater use of honorary consuls.
- On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Americans will go to the polls to elect their president and 35 members of the Senate (currently held by 23 Republicans and 12 Democrats). The GOP currently holds 53 seats and the Democrats and Independents hold 47 seats in the 100-member Senate. All 435 members of the House of Representatives are up for election. The Democrats hold 231 seats and the GOP 184. There are gubernatorial elections in 11 states with the GOP defending seven and the Democrats four. Nationally, the GOP holds 26 governorships and the Democrats 24. Voters will also elect 5,876 of the country’s 7,383 state legislators as well as local sheriffs, judges, county and city councilors. They will also decide on state and civic initiatives, propositions and constitutional amendments. As set out in the Constitution, the next U.S. Congress will begin at noon on January 3, 2021 and the Chief Justice will administer the oath of office to the president at noon on January 20, 2021.
- The U.S. Elections Project predicts a high turnout of eligible voters (in 2016 it was 55.5 per cent). It estimates (October 21) that over 41 million Americans (nearly 1/3 of the turnout in 2016) have already cast their ballots either in person or through the mail. Over 50 million – 24 million registered Democrats and 16 million registered Republicans – have requested mail-in ballots.
- In 2016, the Census calculated that almost two-thirds of eligible white voters cast a ballot. African-American turnout fell to 59 per cent, a drop from both of Obama’s elections. Latino turnout was at 48 per cent. Young people stayed home: only about 46 per cent of eligible voters under 30 turned out, far below the participation among those 45 and older.
- The total cost of the 2020 election will approach $11 billion, more than 50 per cent pricier than 2016, according to estimates from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Both Brookings and the Council on Foreign Relations have analyzed Biden’s and Trump’s foreign policies. For public opinion surveys, look to the Pew Foundation and Chicago Council on Global Affairs. PBS Frontline’s The Choice 2020: Trump vs Biden is riveting watching. For a comprehensive account and insights from a practitioner into American diplomacy read Robert Zoellick’s America in the World: A History of US Diplomacy and Foreign Policy.
For a contemporary view on managing Canada-U.S. relations, listen to former ambassador David MacNaughton in conversation with Paul Wells. For an historical perspective, browse through the Washington Diaries of Allan Gottlieb, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of Canadian diplomacy in the United States, and look to his C.D. Howe lecture on Romanticism and Realism in Canadian Foreign Policy.