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About Colin Robertson

A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is Vice President and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and hosts its regular Global Exchange podcast.  He is an Executive Fellow at the… Read more »

US Election Analysis

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U.S. Election Webinar Series: Post-Election Expert Panel

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 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. MDT
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U.S. Election Webinar Series: Post-Election Expert Panel

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Two days after the official U.S. election, the results may or may not be in. A clear winner may have been decided, or the results may be heading to court. Americans may be celebrating a peaceful transition of power, or the world might be on edge watching as the global epitome of democracy teeters.

Regardless of the outcome, the impacts in the U.S., to Canada, and globally will be dramatic. Please join The School of Public Policy as we unpack November 3rd, and provide an expert analysis of what it means to the U.S., to Canada, and to the global order.

Panel:

MODERATOR: Deborah Yedlin, Chancellor, University of Calgary

Dr. Monica Gattinger, Director of Institute for Science, Society and Policy; Chair, Positive Energy; Professor, School of Political Science, University of Ottawa

Frank Graves, President, EKOS Research Associates

Colin Robertson, Vice President and Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute; Executive Fellow, School of Public Policy, University of Calgary; Distinguished Senior Fellow, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University

Dr. Christopher Sands, Director, Canada Institute, The Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars; Senior Research Professor, Canadian Studies, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University
There is no cost to register. Webinar will be hosted via Zoom. Please share this with those who might be interested.

The US Elections: Implications for Canada

Election Uncertainty

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Ottawa’s silence necessary during U.S. election uncertainty: democracy experts

Trump claimed a triumph early Wednesday even though mail-in votes were still being legally counted, including in key swing states such as Pennsylvania, a process that could take days.While the temptation to speak out in defence of the apparent breach of democratically accepted electoral norms might have been overwhelming, the Trudeau government has held its tongue.

Some analysts, who have seen the fallout of authoritarianism first-hand, say silence was the only option.”Canada and other allies need to stay quiet, except for statements supportive of an orderly democratic process,” said Michael Bociurkiw, a Canadian who spent two years in Ukraine for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014.

“What happens in these next hours and days is being watched very carefully around the world by legitimately elected leaders, dictators and coup leaders alike.”

Bociurkiw said the silence is imperative even though Trump’s remarks strike him as “something that we might have expected to come out of the mouth of someone like Vladimir Putin, who’s a master at fomenting chaos, causing confusion.”

Stephen Pomper, senior director of policy for Washington-based International Crisis Group, said it was “reckless and wrongheaded” for Trump to prematurely declare victory but the world needs to step back and wait patiently.

“Both campaigns need to create space for all votes to be counted, as do U.S. and foreign political leaders. Foreign leaders should express their support for the democratic process and hold back on any congratulations until it has run its course.”

There’s more at stake for Canada than just giving Americans the time and space to be fully count their ballots.

Any premature declaration, especially if it appears to side with Democrat Joe Biden, could create a damaging economic backlash if Trump were to eventually prevail.

The Trudeau government learned that lesson the hard way during the lengthy, and at times bitter, renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Trudeau Liberals strictly enforced communication discipline that forbade any reaction to Trump’s provocative tweeting throughout the talks, including trash-talking Canadian farmers and steel producers.

When Trump imposed punitive tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, the government did publicly brand them as unfair to Canada. When Trudeau reiterated that point at the closing press conference of the 2018 G7 leaders’ summit he was hosting in Charlevoix, Que., Trump went ballistic on Twitter on his way out, calling Trudeau “very dishonest and weak.”

Last week, Trudeau telegraphed that neither he nor Canada’s top allies would be making any declarations about the U.S. vote until the will of the American voters had been settled. Appearing at a virtual meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the European Union Council president, he committed Canada to working with whomever Americans elected.

“The uncertainty means we continue to stay stoic, avoid any comment that will come back to bite us and continue to plan for every contingency,” said Colin Robertson, the vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a retired diplomat with extensive U.S. experience.

“The Congress will look roughly the same: a slimmer Republican Senate majority and House (with a) slightly shaved Democrat majority. This means we need to continue to work both sides of the aisle because our interests are many, and we need to be constantly reminding Americans of why we matter and why trade serves their interest as well.”

Behind the scenes, Canada and some of its Western allies are likely dreading another scenario: what if Trump picks up the phone and wants to talk before the election is settled?

It’s not a topic that the Canadian officials or any of their Western counterparts will discuss on the record.

But Bessma Momani, an international affairs specialist at the University of Waterloo, said that’s something they may have to brace for.

“A big challenge for Canada now is that Trump may want to declare victory before all votes are counted and expect allies to send in their congratulations,” she said.

That could leave Canada in a situation where “Trump will take this very personally and be punitive on trade matters.”

Regardless of how the election turns out, Americans are more divided than ever and the Canadian government’s approach must be recalibrated to reflect that, said Sarah Goldfeder, a consultant and former U.S. diplomat who served two ambassadors in Ottawa.

“This narrative that Trump was just (elected by) a lot of Americans that were, you know, stupid or mistaken, and they didn’t really mean to vote for him … that’s not actually true.”

David Jacobson, Barack Obama’s first ambassador to Canada, said Thursday his country isn’t divided based on issues, “it is divided based upon culture.”

But the fact that a record number of Americans turned out to vote shows that democracy is strong in the U.S., he said.

“The fact of the matter is in our system, we more or less get the kind of government we deserve. And we’ve got a very divided government, and I guess that’s what we deserve.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2020.

The U.S. is our neighbour, yet some Canadians say it’s never felt so far away

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Like many Canadians, Victoria Purchase-Carter could barely sleep. Her husband, Roger, got out of bed to check the results at 2 a.m. She got out of bed at 3 a.m. to do the same. They were both up again at 5 a.m.

Come Wednesday morning, the continued uncertainty over the outcome of the U.S. election had her feeling sick to her stomach.

The Newfoundland couple are more than passive observers; they are winter snowbirds who purchased a bungalow in a mobile home park in Florida earlier this year. They’re worried about the potential for violence once the results are known and aren’t sure if they should keep or sell their vacation home.

“I’m worried about the chaos it’s going to cause throughout the country. You can see in different states, different towns and cities, they’re boarding up their businesses. It’s scary,” she said. “I can’t believe this is our next-door neighbour. This country that has always been looked up to from so many people around the world, so many other countries.

“It’s in turmoil.”

She wasn’t alone in describing a nagging, palpable sense of dread, a feeling that no matter what the outcome — whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden finally wins — Canada has never felt so apart from the U.S.

“I think this is an anxious time for Canadians, waiting to see if the Americans have done it again,” said Stephen Azzi, director of Carleton University’s graduate program in political management, earlier on Wednesday. “We thought our best friend was about to break up with that fool, but now it looks like the two of them might stay together.”

Academics pointed out this contentious 2020 election isn’t the first time that Canadians have felt out of step with their American counterparts. Think back to the late 1960s, Azzi said.

 

“There was a real sense of separation between Canada and the United States. The Americans were engaged in a war in Vietnam, police were attacking peaceful civil rights protesters, and race riots were erupting in American cities. To many Canadians, the United States seemed to represent violence. It seems to me that there are a lot of similarities between then and now.”

Margaret MacMillan, a history professor at the University of Toronto, goes even further back in time.

“It’s a cliché, but there’s something in it: We were founded in a different way. The U.S. was founded in an act of rebellion. In Canada, we were founded as a protection against what we saw as rather worrying in the U.S. We’ve always had a different attitude toward government. We see it as something that is necessary and useful, whereas a lot of Americans treat it with suspicion and somehow hostile to them.”

MacMillan said she was looking at polls the other day and was struck by the number of Canadians who want to keep strict border restrictions in place. (According to a Research Co. poll from September, it’s 90 per cent).

MacMillan doesn’t think the global pandemic is the only reason.

“I suspect it may be just concerns about what’s going on down there.”

There used to be an American sociologist named Seymour Lipset, she noted, who talked about how Canadian and American values were getting more and more alike.

“I think that has not been borne out. Our values are closer to Scandinavian countries in Europe on social and cultural issues,” she said. “I think we’re more aware of the separation than perhaps for a long time.”

A recent Environics Institute survey found more than three in five Canadian respondents had an unfavourable view of the U.S. The poll also found that a growing proportion of Canadians — one in 10 in the early 2000s compared to one in three today — said the two countries are becoming less alike.

Whereas a vast majority of Canadians — 89 per cent — described the U.S. as a friend in 2013, only 60 per cent said they feel that way today.

One person caught in the middle of the perceived political and cultural divide is Leanne Cusack.

The B.C. native moved to Oregon more than a decade ago to pursue graduate studies. She recently became a professor at Western Oregon University and obtained U.S. citizenship.

 

But the self-described “diehard Canadian” said that since the 2016 election, she and her husband have been discussing an exit strategy.

This past summer, they returned to Canada with their kids with a plan to stay six weeks. They’re still here. After the close election results, they were in no rush to return.

“No matter what the outcome is, I’m disappointed that half the States is going the way they are,” she said.

“I knew it was going to be a fight, but was definitely hoping Biden would win by more of a margin. I was hoping the polls were correct in saying he did have a bit of a lead.”

The difference between American and Canadian political culture couldn’t be more stark, she said. Just look at the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The public health messaging has been relatively clear and consistent in Canada compared to the U.S.

“I don’t want my kids growing up in that kind of environment. I want them to grow up in a more normal, inclusive, nice country.”

There is, of course, no denying the strong economic ties between Canada and the U.S. and the cultural influence America still has on this country, experts said.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, takes a less gloomy view of U.S.-Canada relations.

He notes the inscriptions on both sides of the Peace Arch monument that straddles the B.C.-Washington State border and celebrates 100 years of peace between the two countries.

On the U.S. side, it reads, “Children of a Common Mother.” On the Canadian side, “Brethren Dwelling Together in Unity.”

Trump or Biden

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OTTAWA — Four more years of an inscrutable, unpredictable Donald Trump. Or a new chapter with a friendly, predictable Joe Biden.Both options hung in the balance for Canada as the U.S. presidential election clawed through its unresolved Tuesday night cliffhanger offering no political certainty over who would occupy the foreign office most important to Canadian interests.

As Americans marched to the polls earlier Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland offered an assessment that foreshadowed the evening’s uncertainty.

“Our federal government is absolutely ready. We have thoughtfully prepared for all eventualities and I am really confident that we have a plan no matter what happens,” she said.Tuesday’s early results came as Americans went to the polls, capping a campaign marked by voter intimidation, threats of postelection violence, and concern about the potential breakdown of democracy itself.

Colin Robertson, a retired diplomat who served in multiple U.S. postings, said Canadians have every reason to be concerned about what has been unfolding south of the border, but now is not the time to take sides.

“What can we do? Keep calm, consult with the allies and, as (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau said, prepare for all contingencies.”

The first returns showed Trump, as expected, winning in Indiana and Kentucky. He also won Florida after an early see-saw for that crucial state.

It was going to be a long night that would likely not produce a definitive result, said Mark Feigenbaum, the Toronto tax lawyer who is the chairman of Republicans Overseas Canada.

“It’s really encouraging that a lot of people are out voting. Whomever they’re voting for, I think it’s good,” he said.

Early results showed Biden performing better than expected in Republican strongholds such as Texas and Ohio. But then Trump surged back and ended up being declared the winner in both states.

Bruce Heyman, Barack Obama’s second ambassador to Canada, cautioned: “Judging a game at half time or the first period, you just can’t do it. You have to wait to the end.”

There was a tug of war in Florida, with its 29 votes in the electoral college, where a presidential candidate needs at least 270 votes to win. But by the wee hours of Wednesday Trump was in a comfortable lead with the vast majority of the ballots counted.

Bessma Momani, an international affairs specialist at the University of Waterloo, said it was too early to draw any definitive conclusions.

“People are just projecting their own hopes,” she said.

“The early voting is pretty spectacular. From the academic side of this, usually early voting does not indicate a vote for the incumbent.”

Earlier Tuesday, a new poll from Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found a clear majority of Canadians surveyed worried that the United States will suffer a breakdown of its system marked by “social chaos” if no clear winner emerges.

That fear was driven by the assumption that Trump won’t accept defeat if he does in fact lose, or may prematurely declare victory before all votes, including mail-in ballots, can be legally counted.

The Leger poll found that three-quarters of those surveyed in Canada are worried about the U.S. election, and 68 per cent worry that there will be a “complete breakdown of the political system in the U.S. leading to a period of social chaos.”

Four out of five respondents said they were concerned that increased racial tension would lead to protests and violence.

“It’s a bit like watching your neighbour’s roof catch fire,” said Perrin Beatty, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

“You’re both fascinated and horrified.”

The survey of 1,516 Canadians selected from an online panel was conducted from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1. Polls conducted this way do not come with a margin of error, since they are not considered random.

The survey delved deeper into Canadians’ anxiety: The possibility of “significant civil unrest or violence” in the streets on election day or the following days worried 77 per cent of respondents; 72 per cent were concerned that Trump wouldn’t accept the election result if he lost; 62 per cent were worried about a stock market crash.

Georganne Burke, an Ontario-based dual Canadian-American citizen who has campaigned for Trump in the U.S., blamed the Democrats for stoking fears of unrest and violence.

Burke said it was “hype” that Trump would refuse to accept a defeat.

“That’s garbage. Will he be unhappy? Sure, he’ll be unhappy. Will he say outrageous things? Probably. But he’ll leave.”

The Leger poll left no doubt who Canadians want to win the White House — 80 per cent favoured Biden.

Trudeau said Tuesday that Canada’s job is to work with whomever American voters elect, and cited trade deals as particular evidence that his government has been able to work with Trump.

He said he would spend some time watching the results Tuesday night, though he acknowledged that word of a definite winner could take days or even weeks.

If there should be trouble in the U.S., Freeland said in response to a question about that possibility, Canadian diplomats will be prepared to assist Canadians living there.

“It is absolutely a responsibility of our government to be there for Canadians outside out country, and we will be there for them, too.”

Like Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Canadians would be closely watching as Americans “practise their democracy.”

Sarah Goldfeder, now an Ottawa-based consultant and former U.S. diplomat under two American ambassadors, said Canadians must be vigilant to guard against the ideological infiltration of extreme, divisive politics into Canada.

“Literally, stores are boarded up across America right now, in anticipation of civil unrest in the streets. And that’s not good for anybody that has to do business with the U.S.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2020.

Why this Trump-Biden showdown has our Canadian hearts racing

 

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Let’s face it: As the clock ticks toward Election Day in the United States, Canadians are every bit as anxious as Americans over the outcome. We can’t stop dissecting and debating the issues, or doomscrolling through coverage of the showdown between U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

As former prime minister Pierre Trudeau put it in 1969, living next to the U.S. is akin to sleeping with an elephant: “No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast … one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Five decades later, political observers say, that metaphor couldn’t be more apt.

“I think it holds true today,” said Stephen Azzi, director of Carleton University’s graduate program in political management, who likens Canadian attitudes toward the U.S. over the past four years to watching your best friend “make a terrible mistake and knowing there was no way to stop it.”

“Events in the United States are bound to have an effect on Canada. It’s not just Trump’s policies on trade or pipelines. It’s the impact of American political culture. If Americans learn to distrust their media, can Canadians be far behind? If American democracy dissolves, can Canadians hang on to democracy here?”

Opinion polling in Canada has consistently shown that Canadians favour putting Biden, the former vice-president, in the White House.

In a Leger survey of more than 1,500 Canadians in late September, 72 per cent of respondents said they would vote for Biden versus only 14 per cent for Trump. When asked how they would define the relationship between Trump’s administration and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 59 per cent of respondents said “bad.”

David Dozois, a psychology professor at Western University, says he suspects the U.S. presidential race has caused Canadians’ anxiety levels to rise, just like the global pandemic.

 

“What fuels anxiety is uncertainty and lack of control. We want predictability,” he said. “Certainly, the current U.S. administration has been anything but predictable. … Many Canadians do not have much confidence in Trump. Certainly, the relations between Canada and the U.S. in recent years have been more strained than, probably, in many, many years.”

Dozois was part of the research team behind a survey released this year by the charity Mental Health Research Canada that found Canadians’ anxiety levels had quadrupled in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When anxiety levels get that high, it triggers a physiological “fight or flight” response in the body, Dozois said. But because the threat from COVID-19 is unseen, it is harder for people to fight or run away from it.

The ongoing political tension and uncertainty emanating from the U.S. is similarly something we can neither fight nor run away from.

“I know when I watch the presidential debate, I can feel my cortisol levels increase and adrenalin kicking in,” Dozois said.

“The stakes are high for Canadians. When you perceive there to be a high threat, it’s very easy to have anxious thoughts. And sometimes our thoughts — when we’re anxious — get out of control. So, we start to have attentional biases toward things that are more threatening. We start to see more threats than there actually is. That’s true of COVID. I think it’s also true sometimes of political situations, where we say, ‘Oh no, we’re doomed.’”

Janni Aragon, a political science professor and director of the technology and society program at the University of Victoria, says she has seen U.S. “election anxiety” crop up among her own students.

“It feels like it is on our doorstep. I know that my Canadian students are on the edge of their seats watching this election with agitation,” she said.

“I am hearing from students via email, in our learning management system, social media, and even via text. There is election anxiety.”

Aragon said she’s had students approach her after the televised debates to say they won’t be attending class the next day because they felt “attacked.”

“This is mostly from the racialized women, who feel that the tenor of the debate is personal and the increase in racialized sexism hurts their mental health. (I understand this. I’m Latina),” she wrote in an email.

“I am also getting queries about good meditation apps or other tools to help them deal with election anxiety — not sleeping or overall anxiousness.”

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Any American election truly does affect Canada, says Veronica Kitchen, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo. Think about the large number of Canadians living in the U.S. or who have loved ones living south of the border.

“Traditionally, the Canadian prime minister is the first phone call to a new American president, and the first visit of a new president is to Canada. The disruption of all of this closeness is legitimately unsettling,” she said.

The Trump administration’s imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada with the justification being that they pose a potential national security threat has been similarly troubling, Kitchen said.

“Canadian prime ministers and American presidents have not always liked each other, and doing so is not a requirement for Canadian-American relations running smoothly, but the animosity between Trudeau and Trump is a stark contrast to the friendship between Trudeau and (Barack) Obama.”=

Many countries turn to Canada to explain our neighbour — its twitches and its grunts — and yet Canada foolishly doesn’t put enough attention into studying the U.S., says Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, which publishes policy papers and commentary on this country’s place in the world.

“More than any other nation — our security and defence depend on the U.S. shield and our economy depends on U.S. trade and investment,” he said.

Robertson says Trump’s ongoing attempts to cast doubts about the legitimacy of the election worry him.

But he says he is encouraged by the fact more than 95 million Americans have voted already. He also finds comfort in the “folk wisdom” of Sam Rayburn, the longest-serving U.S. speaker from Texas.

“Amongst his pithy sayings was that Americans will elect a jackass once, but seldom twice,” he said. “I hope that holds true.”

Asked if he can recall a moment when Canadians looked upon their southern neighbours with such disfavour, Azzi suggests the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“A significant number of Canadians were against the war and were troubled to see Americans lunge in without seeming to think through what they were doing,” he said.

 

“Canadians are deeply troubled when Americans betray the values common to both countries. These situations are particularly difficult because we know that Americans aren’t interested in what we have to say.”

Canadian Foreign Policy and Trump

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OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne was recently pondering Canada’s place in the world from his home in Shawinigan, Que., “the command centre of foreign policy, these days,” as he called it.

“Pax Americana is probably behind us,” Champagne said in the interview. “Now, we need to see what’s our interests, our values and our principles. We can advance them with our traditional partners, and also with new alliances around the world.”

Champagne never mentioned Donald Trump by name, nor did he specifically mention the wrecking ball the U.S. president has taken to the international institutions created out of the devastation of the Second World War — the United Nations, the World Bank, NATO and others — that were devoted to ensuring a sustainable global peace.

But he was clearly noting how part of that postwar deal, the notion of the superpower America leading that new multilateral order by supporting and enforcing “American Peace” had clearly devolved toward “America First” over the last four years.

Canada had to adapt to that primarily because its economic fate is inextricably tied to its top trading partner south of the 49th parallel.

So Canada’s foreign policy morphed, drawing on the playbook of gridiron football played on this continent — Canada did an end run around the United States. Here are five ways that played out:

End running the White House on NAFTA

Trump repeatedly called the North American Free Trade Agreement the worst trade deal ever and threatened many times to rip it up. Canada responded to his existential economic threat with a “Team Canada” approach that eventually helped forge a new trilateral trade deal in 2019. This saw cabinet ministers, provincial premiers, business and union leaders target individual members of the U.S. Congress, state governors, local politicians and business counterparts. The Canadians were armed with data that showed exactly where in the U.S. Canadian products were going, and sought to show in dollar terms that trade with Canada was essential to the U.S. It was distilled into this talking point: Canada is the chief export market of 35 U.S. states, and nine million U.S. jobs depends directly on that. “I think that has to be a permanent campaign because … our (COVID-19) recovery is going to depend, once again, on the United States,” said retired diplomat Colin Robertson, who held several postings throughout the U.S.

Fixing the World Trade Organization without the U.S.

Canada led more than a dozen countries — minus the U.S. and China — in an effort to reform the World Trade Organization, which Trump calls “horrible.” Trade Minister Mary Ng convened the Ottawa Group virtually this past week, following the work started by her predecessor Jim Carr, to find ways to make the world’s trade referee work more effectively and then try to win over the U.S. with solid proposals. The U.S. has essentially crippled WTO’s Appellate Body, one of its dispute-settlement arms, because it declined late last year to appoint new judges. Canadian trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said the U.S. has valid criticism of the WTO but is doing nothing to fix it. “They are being unilaterally obstructionist,” he said. “They are basically saying, ‘We don’t like what’s happening, and we are prepared to put a freeze on a lot of WTO processes.’”

Reaching out to Europe

Trump has defunded the UN World Health Organization because, he says, it conspired with China to downplay the threat of COVID-19 in January. Canada continues to support the WHO and joined with the European Union in May to support its anti-pandemic efforts. Before that, Canada joined France and Germany to be part of a new group called the Alliance for Multilateralism. The U.S. wasn’t invited. Its goal: defend the global institutions fighting for their survival. In April, the alliance issued a statement supporting the WHO and saying the pandemic fight “requires more and enhanced international co-operation and worldwide solidarity.” Bessma Momani, an international affairs expert at the University of Waterloo, said the new alliance represents a “symbolic” broadside against populist political movements in Poland, Hungary, Italy and within France itself. “The signalling there is really, really interesting,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of substantive outcome one should expect from the France-Germany-Canada alliance.”

Stoking the fire with the old British BFF 

Champagne made a special point of stopping in Britain to meet personally with his British counterpart, Dominic Raab, on his late summer four-country trip. Since then, Canada and Britain taken joint action on some high-profile international security issues, levelling sanctions against the autocratic leaders of Belarus and calling for a ceasefire in the fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Raab and Champagne also joined forces with Germany to condemn Russia for its poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. While Canada may appreciate the newly rekindled camaraderie, Momani said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson likely feels the same, given his country’s decision to stage a Brexit and leave the European Union, because it shows “they still have friends in the world.”

Building a coalition to counter China 

The U.S. request to extradite Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou has made Canada, and its two imprisoned citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, collateral damage in Trump’s trade war with China. Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spoken out forcefully about the detention and the president told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in June 2019 that he would see what he could do about the two Michaels in an upcoming conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It’s not clear what Trump did on that front. Meanwhile, Canada has built a coalition of support in the international community that has extended beyond the U.S. to several dozen countries, a move that has angered Beijing. David MacNaughton, Canada’s former ambassador to the U.S., said this past week all help on China is welcomed, including from the Americans, because what lies ahead is a “decade-long struggle in terms of redefining the relationship between the West and China.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2020.

Trump or Biden: What it means for Canada

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Biden or More Trump: What Canadians Need to Know about the 2020 U.S. Election

Biden_vs_Trump_Header.jpg

Image credit: Force Ten Design

PRIMER

by Colin Robertson
CGAI Vice-President & Fellow
October 2020

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Table of Contents


Introduction

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.

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If Trump Wins

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.”

It means a continuation of his transactional approach to issues, and those transactions must serve his domestic priorities. As Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross put it at the outset of NAFTA renegotiations with Canada and Mexico: “We’re trying to do a difficult thing. We’re asking two countries to give up some privileges that they have enjoyed for 22 years. And we’re not in a position to offer anything in return.”

 

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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.

Acting on his contempt for multilateralism, Trump pulled the USA out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces TreatyUNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Open Skies Treaty. He refused to join the global migration pact and the European-led efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 or the Franco-German Alliance on Multilateralism.

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.”

In a recent discussion at the Aspen Institute, current National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien described the Trump approach as dealing “with the world as it is and not as we wish it to be and we don’t turn a blind eye to the conduct of our competitors or adversaries… the idea of leading from behind and strategic patience has been cast aside by this administration… America First but not America Alone.” O’Brien summarized the Trump achievements: destruction of the ISIS Caliphate, American hostages brought home, replacement of NAFTA with USMCA and revised trade deals with Korea and Japan, curbing undocumented refugees from Central America, better burden sharing within NATO, stronger military including the creation of the Space Force, improved relations with India and Brazil, revitalized alliances in the Indo-Pacific, peace agreement with the Taliban and troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, pressure campaign on Iran and its allies in the region, the Abraham Accords bringing peace between the Gulf Arabs, and now Sudan with Israel and the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Looking ahead, O’Brien also said that a Trump administration is “not going to stay in international organizations that are corrupt or that are totally controlled by the Chinese if we can’t reform them. We’re going to try and reform them first. We’re not going to stay involved in the Human Rights Council or the WHO where they’re fully corrupt.”

Trump’s trade wars – tariffs and quotas –  have been aimed at adversaries, like China, as well as allies like Canada; in Canada’s case, often using the dubious claim of defending ‘national security’. Trump’s trade actions are challenged at the World Trade Organization. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Trump tariffs have cost the average US household $1277 a year while the New York Fed points out their cost to American manufacturers that rely on imports.

Mr. 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.

A Trump administration devoted to further deregulation, fossil fuel exploitation, more tariffs 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.

Immigration to the US has halved under Donald Trump, to about 600,000 people per year — a level not seen since the 1980s — according to an analysis by William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution. As Frey told the New York Times, the drop “is clearly a result of Trump’s restrictive immigration measures, including immigrant bans from selected countries, greater limits on refugees, and generating fear among other potential immigrant groups over this administration’s unwelcoming policies.”

Trump has sliced US refugee admissions to such an extent that Canada is now the lead refugee resettlement country.  Canada resettled 28,000 refugees in 2018, while the U.S. resettled 23,000, down from 33,000 in 2017 and 97,000 in 2016.

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If Biden Wins

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.”

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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.”

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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.

When asked about foreign interference in the election during the last presidential debate Biden said: “We know that Russia has been involved, China has been involved to some degree, and now we learn that Iran has been involved. They will pay a price if I’m elected.”

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 also have to address the problem identified by then Defense Secretary James Mattis in the US Nuclear Posture Review (2018): ”Russia is modernizing these [nuclear] weapons as well as its other strategic systems. Even more troubling has been Russia’s adoption of military strategies and capabilities that rely on nuclear escalation for their success.” Biden promises in ’Why America Must Lead Again,’ Foreign Affairs (2020) to “…pursue an extension of the New START treaty, an anchor of strategic stability between the United States and Russia, and use that as a foundation for new arms control arrangements.”

Biden 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. But we should be under no illusion: Biden is as green as Obama. As he said in the final presidential debate, he is committed to “transition away from the oil industry.”

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.

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Looking forward: Debt, Division, COVID & China

Donald Trump has been a daily part of Canadian life these past four years with his tweets and pronouncements. While he ‘entertained’ as host of the Apprentice, as President of the Free World he has shocked, frightened and angered Canadians. This we will not miss. A recent survey conducted by ABACUS, says 75 percent of Canadians would vote for Joe Biden and 25 percent for Donald Trump.

In an essay for the Lowy Institute, Brookings scholar Thomas Wright worries that a re-elected Donald Trump would  feel “vindicated and emboldened. He will surround himself with loyalists and will act without constraint. The world may be irrevocably altered — alliances may come to an end, the global economy could close, and democracy could go into rapid retreat.”

A Joe Biden administration, on the other hand, writes Wright, would be a “reprieve” for the rules-based international order. The question will be how closely he hews to the Obama approach on which he has campaigned. Wright says the debate will be between the “restorationists” – those who would continue Obama’s approach, and “reformers”- those who would challenge parts of it on issues like China, foreign economic policy, the Middle East, and democracy. Regardless of the outcome, we also need to keep in mind that as a recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey illustrates, Republicans and Democrats see the world and its threats differently  and these divisions will affect US policy-making.

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?

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.

Managing China will stay at the top of the president’s inbox. 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.”

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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.”

In the final presidential debate Biden picked up on this theme accusing Trump of embracing “thugs like [Kim Jong-un] in North Korea and the Chinese president [Xi Jinping] and [Russia’s Vladimir] Putin and others, and he pokes his finger in the eye of all of our friends, all of our allies… We need to be having the rest of our friends with us saying to China: these are the rules. You play by them or you’re going to pay the price for not playing by them, economically.”

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. 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”.

 

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APPENDIX

Basics of the Canada-U.S. Relationship

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.

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. These issues are not likely to change no matter who is president.

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.

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Source: DND

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. But it seems likely that in addition to trade and security (especially since 9/11 when Canada and the USA sought to create a North American security perimeter), public health will now be part of the screening process. Alberta is experimenting with testing at the point of entry and then a second test days later to mitigate quarantine restrictions.

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.

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Source: Agriculture Canada

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.

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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.

Basic Facts on the U.S. Election

  • 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.

 

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Source: US Census Bureau

  • 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.

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Source: Pew Foundation

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Further Sources

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.

There are many books on the Trump presidency; my favourite are Rage (2020) and Fear (2018) by Bob Woodward, and the Washington Post fact-check team’s account Donald Trump and his Assault on Truth (2020). Trump’s own autobiography The Art of the Deal (1987)  is still the best insight into how he operates. Joe Biden’s autobiographies Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics (2007) and Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose (2017) should be read along with Evan Osnos’ Joe Biden: The Life, the run and what matters now (2020) and Jules Witcover’s Joe Biden: A life of Trial and Redemption (2019).

The U.S. embassy and Canadian embassy provide basic facts and the embassies’ state trade fact sheets are especially useful.

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.

Trump or Biden Canada has to be ready

      Comments Off on Trump or Biden Canada has to be ready

Whether it’s Trump or Biden, Canada has to be ready to get to work

By COLIN ROBERTSON      
Canada cannot change its geography. Nor would we want to. For Canada, the U.S. is the consequential relationship, and we need to keep investing in it.

Nov. 3 is the “most consequential” U.S. election in our lifetime—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.”

For Trump, re-election will reaffirm “America First”—but unlike 2016, when he campaigned on themes like “Build the Wall” and “Drain the Swamp,” his platform this time is “More Trump” and his transactional approach to issues.

We can expect withdrawals from more multilateral organizations, starting with the World Trade Organization. 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.

A Trump administration devoted to further deregulation and lower taxes also presents complications for Trudeau. It will be hard to square Canadian competitiveness with a green shift and social justice redistribution if the U.S. is headed in the opposite direction.

Life for Canada would be easier with Joe Biden. An internationalist, Biden will utilize multilateralism and value allies like Canada. Also, Biden likes Trudeau. After the 2016 election, Biden passed him the torch as defender of the “liberal international order.” Aside from a more predictable and rational administration, Biden endorses social justice and green and clean energy policies that would align with Trudeau’s plans.

Biden has an ambitious agenda. In the U.S. system, it is hard to run too many things through the system at once because of the separation of powers. Even if the Democrats control both chambers in Congress, as did both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in their first terms, it’s still difficult to get things done quickly. Biden faces a daunting domestic agenda, starting with COVID-19 recovery, then commitments to clean energy, immigration reform, and action on social and racial justice.

Canada needs to leverage off this domestic agenda and identify the natural fits. “Building back better” in the U.S. comes 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.

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 but rather work it out.

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? The new North American trade accord includes a committee. We need to harness clean technological innovation for continuous improvements that reinforce competitiveness.

We can count on Trudeau to rekindle his relationship with Biden. Brian Mulroney best described the importance of prime ministers cultivating good relations with presidents: “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.”

Our premiers and legislators also need to continue their own outreach to their American counterparts. The premiers played a critical role in persuading their governor counterparts to sign onto a reciprocity agreement on procurement in the Obama administration infrastructure program as part of the recovery from the 2008-09 recession.

The shifting tides of geopolitics suggest that the U.S. is in relative decline and that Americans favour isolationism. But tracking surveys by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs consistently say 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.

While 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. For Canada, the U.S. is the consequential relationship. So, we need to keep investing in our most important relationship, no matter who is its president.

Colin Robertson is vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Biden or More Trump: What Canadians Need to Know about the 2020 U.S. Election

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Image credit: Force Ten Design

PRIMER

by Colin Robertson
CGAI Vice-President & Fellow
October 2020

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Table of Contents


Introduction

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.

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If Trump Wins

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.”

It means a continuation of his transactional approach to issues, and those transactions must serve his domestic priorities. As Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross put it at the outset of NAFTA renegotiations with Canada and Mexico: “We’re trying to do a difficult thing. We’re asking two countries to give up some privileges that they have enjoyed for 22 years. And we’re not in a position to offer anything in return.”

 

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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.

Acting on his contempt for multilateralism, Trump pulled the USA out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Open Skies Treaty. He refused to join the global migration pact and the European-led efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 or the Franco-German Alliance on Multilateralism.

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.”

In a recent discussion at the Aspen Institute, current National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien described the Trump approach as dealing “with the world as it is and not as we wish it to be and we don’t turn a blind eye to the conduct of our competitors or adversaries… the idea of leading from behind and strategic patience has been cast aside by this administration… America First but not America Alone.” O’Brien summarized the Trump achievements: destruction of the ISIS Caliphate, American hostages brought home, replacement of NAFTA with USMCA and revised trade deals with Korea and Japan, curbing undocumented refugees from Central America, better burden sharing within NATO, stronger military including the creation of the Space Force, improved relations with India and Brazil, revitalized alliances in the Indo-Pacific, peace agreement with the Taliban and troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, pressure campaign on Iran and its allies in the region, the Abraham Accords bringing peace between the Gulf Arabs, and now Sudan with Israel and the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Looking ahead, O’Brien also said that a Trump administration is “not going to stay in international organizations that are corrupt or that are totally controlled by the Chinese if we can’t reform them. We’re going to try and reform them first. We’re not going to stay involved in the Human Rights Council or the WHO where they’re fully corrupt.”

Trump’s trade wars – tariffs and quotas –  have been aimed at adversaries, like China, as well as allies like Canada; in Canada’s case, often using the dubious claim of defending ‘national security’. Trump’s trade actions are challenged at the World Trade Organization. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Trump tariffs have cost the average US household $1277 a year while the New York Fed points out their cost to American manufacturers that rely on imports.

Mr. 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.

A Trump administration devoted to further deregulation, fossil fuel exploitation, more tariffs 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.

Immigration to the US has halved under Donald Trump, to about 600,000 people per year — a level not seen since the 1980s — according to an analysis by William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution. As Frey told the New York Times, the drop “is clearly a result of Trump’s restrictive immigration measures, including immigrant bans from selected countries, greater limits on refugees, and generating fear among other potential immigrant groups over this administration’s unwelcoming policies.”

Trump has sliced US refugee admissions to such an extent that Canada is now the lead refugee resettlement country.  Canada resettled 28,000 refugees in 2018, while the U.S. resettled 23,000, down from 33,000 in 2017 and 97,000 in 2016.

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If Biden Wins

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.”

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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.”

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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.

When asked about foreign interference in the election during the last presidential debate Biden said: “We know that Russia has been involved, China has been involved to some degree, and now we learn that Iran has been involved. They will pay a price if I’m elected.”

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 also have to address the problem identified by then Defense Secretary James Mattis in the US Nuclear Posture Review (2018): ”Russia is modernizing these [nuclear] weapons as well as its other strategic systems. Even more troubling has been Russia’s adoption of military strategies and capabilities that rely on nuclear escalation for their success.” Biden promises in ’Why America Must Lead Again,’ Foreign Affairs (2020) to “…pursue an extension of the New START treaty, an anchor of strategic stability between the United States and Russia, and use that as a foundation for new arms control arrangements.”

Biden 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. But we should be under no illusion: Biden is as green as Obama. As he said in the final presidential debate, he is committed to “transition away from the oil industry.”

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.

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Looking forward: Debt, Division, COVID & China

Donald Trump has been a daily part of Canadian life these past four years with his tweets and pronouncements. While he ‘entertained’ as host of the Apprentice, as President of the Free World he has shocked, frightened and angered Canadians. This we will not miss. A recent survey conducted by ABACUS, says 75 percent of Canadians would vote for Joe Biden and 25 percent for Donald Trump.

In an essay for the Lowy Institute, Brookings scholar Thomas Wright worries that a re-elected Donald Trump would  feel “vindicated and emboldened. He will surround himself with loyalists and will act without constraint. The world may be irrevocably altered — alliances may come to an end, the global economy could close, and democracy could go into rapid retreat.”

A Joe Biden administration, on the other hand, writes Wright, would be a “reprieve” for the rules-based international order. The question will be how closely he hews to the Obama approach on which he has campaigned. Wright says the debate will be between the “restorationists” – those who would continue Obama’s approach, and “reformers”- those who would challenge parts of it on issues like China, foreign economic policy, the Middle East, and democracy. Regardless of the outcome, we also need to keep in mind that as a recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey illustrates, Republicans and Democrats see the world and its threats differently  and these divisions will affect US policy-making.

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?

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.

Managing China will stay at the top of the president’s inbox. 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.”

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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.”

In the final presidential debate Biden picked up on this theme accusing Trump of embracing “thugs like [Kim Jong-un] in North Korea and the Chinese president [Xi Jinping] and [Russia’s Vladimir] Putin and others, and he pokes his finger in the eye of all of our friends, all of our allies… We need to be having the rest of our friends with us saying to China: these are the rules. You play by them or you’re going to pay the price for not playing by them, economically.”

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. 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”.

 

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APPENDIX

Basics of the Canada-U.S. Relationship

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.

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. These issues are not likely to change no matter who is president.

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.

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Source: DND

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. But it seems likely that in addition to trade and security (especially since 9/11 when Canada and the USA sought to create a North American security perimeter), public health will now be part of the screening process. Alberta is experimenting with testing at the point of entry and then a second test days later to mitigate quarantine restrictions.

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.

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Source: Agriculture Canada

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.

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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.

Basic Facts on the U.S. Election

  • 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.

 

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Source: US Census Bureau

  • 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.

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Source: Pew Foundation

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Further Sources

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.

There are many books on the Trump presidency; my favourite are Rage (2020) and Fear (2018) by Bob Woodward, and the Washington Post fact-check team’s account Donald Trump and his Assault on Truth (2020). Trump’s own autobiography The Art of the Deal (1987)  is still the best insight into how he operates. Joe Biden’s autobiographies Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics (2007) and Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose (2017) should be read along with Evan Osnos’ Joe Biden: The Life, the run and what matters now (2020) and Jules Witcover’s Joe Biden: A life of Trial and Redemption (2019).

The U.S. embassy and Canadian embassy provide basic facts and the embassies’ state trade fact sheets are especially useful.

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.

Trump or Biden

      Comments Off on Trump or Biden

Corridors headerThis week, Corridors asked what Canada will miss about the Trump administration if Biden wins.

Maryscott Greenwood, managing director of Crestview Strategy: “Canada already misses having Trump’s appointee, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft, in Ottawa. She proved to be an astute interlocutor for the bilateral relationship and a person who was able to de-escalate brewing conflicts. If Biden wins … Canada will lose a political foil and an atmosphere in which Canada is viewed as a relatively more welcoming landing place for global immigration than the U.S.”

David Wilkins, former U.S. ambassador to Canada: “If Biden keeps his word and immediately cancels the Keystone XL pipeline, Canadians will miss President Trump’s commitment to that vital project. As the world peacekeepers, Canadians may soon understand that despite his gruff exterior, President Trump was a man wholly committed to peace, who through the strength of his will and unique ability to negotiate deals, brokered three extraordinary peace treaties on his watch.”

Colin Robertson, former Canadian diplomat: “Donald Trump has been a daily part of Canadians’ lives these past four years with his tweets and pronouncements. While he ‘entertained’ as host of the Apprentice, as President of the Free World he has shocked, frightened and angered Canadians. This we will not miss.”

What Canada-U.S. trade could look like with Biden as president

Published Wednesday, October 28, 2020 7:33AM EDT

OTTAWA — Canada coped with nearly four years of Donald Trump rewriting or shredding the international trade rule book. But Canadian hope of a rosy return to rules-based bonhomie with its top trading partner under a Joe Biden presidency might be premature.

That warning comes from numerous trade experts, analysts and diplomats who have watched Canadians cope with Trump’s profound threats to their economic well-being.

Trump’s protectionist trade disruptions have included threatening to rip up the North American trade deal, insulting Canada during the renegotiation of a new agreement and imposing what were viewed as degrading national-security metals tariffs.

The Trudeau government tried to remain civil, but eventually called out the Trump Republicans as America’s most protectionist government. Before Trump, however, that honour belonged to another group: the U.S. Democrats.

Biden would try to restore stability, predictability and respect to Canada-U.S. trade relations, but he is a Democrat, and his party’s economic interests will diverge from Canada’s, said Lawrence Herman, an international trade lawyer with Toronto’s Herman and Associates and a former Canadian diplomat.

“It will not all be a return to sweetness and light.”

If Biden wins it will likely mean an end to the persistent threat of the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump imposed on Canada in 2018, using executive powers under U.S. trade law that gave the president the right to impose them on national-security grounds.

Trump was, officially, targeting cheap Chinese steel flooding into the U.S. through Canada, imperilling domestic production of an important military commodity. But Trump’s commerce secretary made clear at the time the tariffs were being imposed to pressure Canada and speed up the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trudeau and his ministers were openly insulted that Canada’s longtime ally was labelling Canada as a security threat.

But even though Biden is expected to be more respectful of trade laws and practices, Herman said Biden is still beholden to anti-trade sentiment within his own party. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist who challenged Biden for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, views the international trade regime as a boon for corporations and the bane of rank-and-file workers.

Sanders and fellow presidential aspirant Sen. Elizabeth Warren hold real influence in the Democratic party, as does organized labour, Herman noted.

“I don’t want to underestimate the importance of just having a much more friendly overall bilateral relationship and a recognition that Canada is an important country and a good friend to the United States,” said Meredith Lilly, the Simon Reisman chair in international trade at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

“But on brass-tacks policy items, I don’t think that we should be expecting special favours.”

Biden is advocating Buy American protectionist policies that could prevent Canadian companies from bidding on U.S. infrastructure projects at the state and municipal levels, she said.

Canada has worked around the restrictions by having provincial premiers and state governors negotiate reciprocity agreements that allowed companies to bid on projects in each other’s jurisdictions, said Colin Robertson, a retired diplomat with extensive U.S. experience and the vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“We’ll make that same argument, and I cannot see any good reason why the American governors would not go for it.”

Then, there’s the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would carry Alberta oilsands crude through the U.S. Midwest to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Trump reversed ex-president Barack Obama’s cancellation of the pipeline permit in 2015. Obama acted in the face of widespread concerns from environmental groups that potential spills would cause serious damage.

“Trump has approved it, he supports it. Biden has vowed to kill it early in his administration by rescinding the presidential permit, and that, I believe, will be devastating, particularly to Western Canada and the Canadian energy sector,” David Wilkins, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada for George W. Bush, told a Tuesday video conference hosted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

David MacNaughton, who was Canada’s ambassador to Washington for most of the Trump era, told the same forum that the transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy will take a long time so the two countries can still work together constructively.

“I would hope that we can find a way to have energy and the environment as a common theme between Canada and the United States. And when the last drop of oil is consumed in the U.S., that it actually comes from Alberta.”

If Trump wins re-election, he will likely extend his use of tariffs and executive orders to sectors beyond manufacturing, including intellectual property, digital trade and patents, said Herman.

In January, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault hinted that he might require American online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon to pay sales tax in Canada.

“Trump could respond to that with tariffs on Canadian digital services,” said Herman.

“Trump has shown a willingness to use executive powers in a way that no other administration has done.”

Canada dodged another major trade bullet with Trump when it managed to negotiate a new North American trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico to replace the much-maligned NAFTA.

But there are no guarantees that the new Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement, or CUSMA as it is known domestically, would provide any certainty with a second Trump administration, said Lilly.

Trump backed down on Tuesday from his summer threat to reimpose aluminum sanctions under national-security provisions, which he originally levied despite CUSMA.

But Lilly sees future problems in CUSMA’s crucial auto-sector chapter that increased the amount of North American content required for new automobiles.

“Contrary to what some in the sector have been touting as a real positive, I think that overall, the agreement is going to make the manufacturing of cars in North America more expensive,” said Lilly.

“The auto manufacturers in the United States have heavy incentives to use American labour in North American cars. If they’re looking to pay high wages in the auto sector, they’re much more likely to relocate those jobs in the United States rather than in Canada.”

Lilly said the CUSMA won’t fully protect Canada because Trump doesn’t see his northern neighbour as particularly special.

“After four years, I think Canada has come to the conclusion that the United States does not have our back.”

China and Genocide

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‘We need courage’: Bloc, NDP MPs push for House to recognize Uyghur genocide in face of Beijing pressure

By NEIL MOSS      
Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu told reporters on Oct. 15 a parliamentary recognition that the Chinese government is committing genocide against the Uyghurs would be met with a ‘strong reaction.’

Following a recent subcommittee proclamation that the Chinese persecution of Uyghur Muslims amounts to genocide, Bloc and NDP MPs on the subcommittee are urging the House of Commons to formally recognize that genocide has taken place.

Bloc Québécois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe (Lac-Saint-Jean, Que.), vice-chair of the House Subcommittee on International Human Rights, said a House recognition that genocide has taken place should happen swiftly.

“I hope it is going to happen as soon as possible—the fastest we can do,” he said.

Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe said he doesn’t see why there wouldn’t be support for such a recognition, as the subcommittee’s Oct. 21 statement had the backing of all parties, but whether it will happen, he thinks, is a toss-up.

NDP MP Heather McPherson (Edmonton Strathcona, Alta.), her party’s subcommittee member, said the issue is “pressing.”

“There are people being sexually assaulted. There are people being tortured. There are people dying. So we do have to go through the process, we do have to do our due diligence, we do have to do our work, but this is a genocide and we need to act,” she said.

The subcommittee held meetings last summer and in 2018 on the human rights situation of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. In recent meetings, the committee heard from more than 20 witnesses and activists over 14 hours on July 20 and July 21. Many urged subcommittee members to recognize that genocide has taken place.

The subcommittee’s unanimous declaration proclaimed it is “important” for the Canadian government to “condemn” the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, “recognize” that the persecution constitutes “genocide and work within legal frameworks of international bodies to recognize that acts being committed against Uyghurs constitute genocide,” and impose Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese government officials “responsible for the perpetration of grave human rights abuses.”

Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu cast a warning to Canadian Parliamentarians against recognizing the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs as genocide. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

The proclamation came less than a week after Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu told reporters there would be a “strong reaction” if Parliament recognized the treatment of Uyghurs as a genocide. The Chinese government has consistently denied that genocide is taking place.

Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe said Parliamentarians need to have “political courage.”

“That means we have to name things. If there wasn’t a genocide, we wouldn’t name it. Because it’s China, we’re not going to name it? I don’t think so,” he said.

He said if genocide was being committed by a smaller, less powerful nation, there would be no apprehension to recognize it.

“There is a genocide. We have proof of it. We [had] two emergency meetings on this [at the subcommittee], hearing from witnesses who have lived this genocide, witnessed this genocide, and been there when there was a genocide,” he said. “We can’t wait [any] more.”

Ms. McPherson said the “bullying” from China shows that Canada needs to work with its international allies.

She said Canada shouldn’t take the threat lightly, but it also can’t let a threat change the way the subcommittee, Parliament, and government operates.

“That would be absurd,” she said. “Let’s be reasonable, let’s not do this alone, let’s not come out swinging by ourselves. Let’s work with our allies.”

“Together that voice is strong enough, I think, that we can bring China back onto the side of international human rights law,” Ms. McPherson said.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the Chinese would protest if Parliament recognized there is a genocide against Uyghurs.

He said a likely response would be the Chinese government summoning Canadian ambassador Dominic Barton and a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry would also raise the issue. He said there’s also a possibility of economic ramifications.

It would be up to diplomats to explain the “stark differences” between the Canadian and Chinese systems of governance, and the independence of Parliamentarians from the government, said Mr. Robertson.

A parliamentary recognition of genocide can occur either through a motion or by the subcommittee submitting a report to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which, if approved, would be tabled in the House, which would then vote on its concurrence.

Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe said he thinks the best path is through a motion.

In 2018, the House passed a unanimous motion recognizing the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar as a genocide.

Ms. McPherson said both options are on the table, and said the subcommittee is looking at composing a report to bring to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

It met in camera to discuss committee business on Oct. 27.

Ms. McPherson said in the meantime, the government should act.

“It takes time to get those reports created and to the committee and have the committee to have the time to actually look at them and make some recommendations, so I think it’s important that the Liberals do more now,” she said, adding the government should move forward with “some urgency.”

“We have legal and moral obligations to act when [a genocide] is apparent,” she said.

Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi (Pierrefonds-Dollard, Que.), a member of the subcommittee, told The Hill Times that Parliament is “seized” by the issue.

“We have as a country … a responsibility to protect, which means that we have a responsibility as a country to halt the genocide to our most ability whenever we see it,” he said. “This is, right now, a live conversation within Parliament.”

Mr. Zuberi said he wants to see the recommendations in the subcommittee’s statement be “popularized throughout Canadian society.”

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne says Canada remains ‘deeply disturbed’ over ‘troubling reports’ of the persecution of Uyghurs. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

“I still feel that there is a relatively low level of awareness around what is unfolding in Xinjiang,” he said.

He added the most important recommendation to come out of the committee’s proclamation is for Canada to work with other nations to have the international community investigate the genocide allegations, as well as for Canada to consider providing asylum to those at risk of being put in concentration camps, to have Canada disentangle itself from products and imports being produced from forced concentration camp labour, and to consider appointing a special envoy to Huseyin Celil—a Canadian citizen with Uyghur origin—who has been detained by Chinese authorities since 2006.

“These recommendations … are recommendations that if highlighted, if implemented, and focused upon, we can actually make real change,” Mr. Zuberi said.

Liberal subcommittee chair Peter Fonseca (Mississauga East-Cooksville, Ont.) noted in an email to The Hill Times that the group works on a consensus basis.

“If there is consensus from the subcommittee members, the subcommittee will produce a report that will have recommendations,” he wrote.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.), who was a member of the subcommittee in the last parliamentary session, has called for both Parliament and the Canadian government to recognize genocide is being committed against the Uyghurs.

Neither the Liberal nor Conservative House leaders addressed whether there’s been discussion between the parties over a motion on recognizing Uyghur genocide.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice-Champlain, Que.) said in a statement that Canada remains “deeply disturbed by the troubling reports of human rights violations in Xinjiang and have publicly and consistently called on the Chinese government to end the repression of Uyghurs.”

Mr. Champagne noted he raised the issue with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet while in Geneva earlier this month.

“Canada along with 37 other countries at the UN expressed its grave concerns regarding the situation in Xinjiang. Canada takes allegations of genocide very seriously. We will continue to work in close collaboration with our allies to push for these to be investigated through an international independent body and for impartial experts to access the region so that they can see the situation firsthand and report back,” he said.

Track Two Discussions China-Canada

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China Institute, University of Alberta (CIUA) – Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA) – Fifth Round of Track II Dialogue

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On October 20, 2020, the 5th round of Canada-China Track II Dialogue was held virtually via video link between Beijing and several cities in Canada.

Previous rounds of the Dialogue have been held in Ottawa, Beijing, Banff and near Chengdu (China).

The China Institute of the University of Alberta was established in 2005 with the support of an endowment granted by the Province of Alberta which matched the appraised value of The Mactaggart Art Collection, donated to the University of Alberta Museums by philanthropists Sandy and Cécile Mactaggart. CPIFA was established in 1949, with Premier Zhou Enlai as its first President.

The Canadian delegation for the 5th round of Canada-China Track II Dialogue was as follows:

Gordon Houlden, Director of the China Institute, at the University of Alberta.
Hon. Lloyd AxworthyChair of the World Refugee and Migration Council, former Minister of Employment and Immigration, Western Diversification and former Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Robert Wrightformer Canadian Ambassador to P.R. China; Former Deputy Minister of International Trade
Gordon Vennerformer Canadian diplomat and ambassador, and former Associate Deputy Minister of National Defence.
Susan GregsonFormer Assistant Deputy Minister for Asia Pacific at Global Affairs Canada, previously served as Deputy High Commissioner in London, Consul General of Canada in Shanghai and Minister-Counsellor at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing.
Ron MacIntosh, Senior Fellow with the China Institute at the University of Alberta, Former Director General, Strategic Planning, Resources and Coordination, Global Affairs Canada and former Canadian diplomat with postings in Japan, Korea, Washington, and as the Executive Director, Canadian Trade Office in Taipei.
Colin Robertson, Vice President and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, former Canadian diplomat, served as first Head of the Advocacy Secretariat and Minister at the Canadian Embassy in Washington and Consul General in Los Angeles, with previous assignments as Consul and Counsellor in Hong Kong and in New York at the UN and Consulate General.
Jia Wang, Deputy Director, China Institute, University of Alberta

The Chinese delegation for the 5th round of Canada-China Track II Dialogue was as follows:

WANG Chao, President of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs.
QIU Yuanping, Standing Committee Member, Vice Chairman of the Commission for Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and Overseas Chinese of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)
CHEN Xiaogong, Former Deputy Commander of Chinese Air Force and Former Assistant Chief of the General Staff.
ZHOU MingweiPresident of Translators Association of China, President of China Academy of Translation, and Executive Member of China Public Diplomacy Association.
ZHAO Weiping, Vice President of Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs
ZHANG Junsai, Former Chinese Ambassador to Canada.
JIANG Shan, Former Minister Counsellor (Commercial) at the Chinese Embassy in Canada.

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The dialogue also benefited from the perspectives of China’s Ambassador to Canada H.E. Cong Peiwu and Canada’s Ambassador to China H.E. Dominic Barton, who both delivered remarks as guest speakers.

The dialogue covered the following main topics:

  • What have been the strengths of the Canada-China interactions that have sustained the relationship for half a century, despite differences in culture, political systems and economies?
  • What are the challenges that have prevented the Canada-China relations from reaching their full potential?
  • How can the current problems that limit the diplomatic relationship be tackled?
  • Can Canada and China find ways to promote multinational solutions to trade, environmental and international issues?
  • Will deteriorating Sino-American relations constrain the rehabilitation of Canada-China relations?

Travel restrictions permitting, it is expected that the 6th round of Canada-China Track II Dialogue will be held in Canada in 2021.

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Two Michaels and China

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Finally, a consular visit to Canadians imprisoned by China

After months of detention with no contact with Canadian authorities, China finally allowed a virtual consular contact with two detained Canadians. Former diplomat Michael Kovrig, and consultant Michael Spavor have been in Chinese prisons since December 2018.

Their arrest and detention in what has been labelled as harsh conditions, came almost immediately after Huawei top executive Meng Wanzhou was detained in Canada on a U.S. extradition requests.  She faces bank fraud charges there related to U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The detention and later charges of espionage against the two Michaels have been called ‘arbitrary’ by Canadian authorities and is widely seen as retaliation for Meng’s detention under a form of house arrest at her two Vancouver mansions.

Since January and the outbreak of the pandemic in China, authorities there have prevented Canadian contact with the two Michaels using the excuse of fear of spreading the virus. Up till this Friday even virtual contact had not been allowed. This is in contravention of a 1999 Canada-China consular agreement, as well as international law Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Reports are that the men were greatly relieved to finally get news from the outside world.

Consular visits of nationals detained in foreign countries are to assess their condition, seek acces to medical care if necessary, provide advice, clarify the nature of the detention, and be a link for detainee and family to communicate.

Lately, Canadian officials past and present have been speaking out more loudly against the detentions and access refusal.   Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan last week in an onliine panel referred to China’s action as “hostage diplomacy”.

Quoted by the CBC on Friday, former Canadian ambassador to China, David Mulroney said. “There was absolutely no reason that virtual access couldn’t have been offered by China even during the height of the pandemic, and no justification for denying in-person visits after China emerged from lockdown during the summer. This is simply more cruel treatment by China, with the expectation that we will be grateful even for even a half-hearted effort on their part. We shouldn’t fall into that trap.”

Canadian Ambassador to the U.N., Bob Rae responded to a Chinese comment at a General Assembly last week that Canada was bullying China. Rae gave a severe rebuke saying Canada would never forget China’s harsh treatment of the two Canadians, saying it was something “we will never forget’, then adding. “If you think that insulting us or insulting my country or insulting anyone is going to help in resolving the situation, you’re sadly mistaken”.

Canadian U.N. ambassador rebukes China

Former Canadian diplomat to Hong Kong, Colin Robertson in an email said the harsh words ma have had an effect in China relenting to allow he virtual consular visits last Friday and Saturday.

Colin Robertson, now with the Global Affairs Institute, is a former Canadian diplomat to China and to the U.N. (suppliled)

He wrote, “It appears that the Chinese government ceasing to withhold counselor access to Michael Kobrig and Michael Spavor is directly connected to the strong statement that Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bon Rae, made in the General Assembly a couple of days before
This does suggest that the Chinese regime does respond positively to Canada kicking back more assertively against China’s gross violations of the norms of international diplomacy and trade. It should embolden Canada to do the right thing and provide safe harbor to those in Hong Kong currently under risk of political persecution due to the National Security Law and to sanction Chinese officials under Canada’s Justice for Victims of Foreign Corrupt Officials Act, our Magnitsky list, for their genocidal actions against Turkic Muslims in Northwest China”.

Conservative opposition Member of Parliament and foreign affairs critic Michael Chong sad te consular visit should have happened much sooner adding the COVID excuse “doesn’t hold water”. Quoted in The Canadian Press, he added that China has largely reopened and in-person visits should have happened long ago. He added that the Liberal government seemed to be reacting to the continued pressure of the Conservatives to take a harder stance against China on the issue

Margaret  McCuaig-Johnston Senior Fellow, Institute of Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa, and Senior Fellow China Institute, University of Alberta, is a recognized expert on Canada-China relations. In an email to RCI on the two Michael’s imprisonment she noted that China has claimed the coronavirus problem is over and “there is absolutely no reason why they cannot be given in person visits as is their right”.

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a Mandarin speaker and respected analyst of Canada-Chinese affairs, is among those saying it’s time for Canada to get tough with China ( University of Ottawa)

She has been among many experts and former official who’ve been advocating for a tougher stance by Canada, calling the arrests of the Canadians a “kidnapping”. In response to some opinions that Canada could resolve the situation by sending Meng Wanzhou home she added, “We all want our citizens returned to us. But that doesn’t mean we should sell our soul and kowtow as low as possible by sending Ms Meng home – that would just teach China to take more hostages whenever it wants a country to fall into line on anything. China needs to see consequences for its outrageous actions against Canada, which has been a friend of China for 50 years. We should continue to work with others countries to call out China on its actions”.

She further added, ” We should impose Magnitsky sanctions against officials, not only for what they have done in Hong Kong and Xinjiang but in the first instance for the kidnapping of our Canadians. We should send home the Chinese athletes training for the 2022 Olympics in China.  The boycott of the Olympics being discussed would hurt our athletes and help China win more medals, but our gesture of friendship to train Chinese athletes is no longer appropriate.

Noting also the issue of 5G wireless technology and trade, she said, “We should ban Huawei, and work with other like-minded countries on alternatives to Chinese telecom technology (UK proposal – D-10, US proposal – Tech-10).  We should diversify away from China to other countries in the Indo-Pacific, so our companies are not at such risk of losing their trade and investments suddenly as happened to our agriculture sector — And we should diversify not just for trade & inv’t reasons but also population health, education, science and technology & security.”

At least three recent polls have shown at least three-quarters of Canadians now have an unfavourable view of China.

A document prepared by Canada’s Global Affairs department in October 2019, warned the then incoming Foreign Affairs minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, that “while Canada has long framed its China policy through the lens of economic opportunity, it now needs to take account of Beijing’s long-term strategic challenge to Canada’s interests and values.”

The papers  released to a committee which had been opposed by the Trudeau Liberals also said, “As the PRC [People’s Republic of China] continues to bolster its assertive foreign policy demeanor, Canada must promote and defend its values in close partnership with like-minded allies and coalitions. The crisis has demonstrated Beijing’s readiness and ability to use aggressive economic and political levers to punish Canada (a pattern observed in China’s other bilateral relationships), and to propagate norms of international relations inimical to Canada’s interests”.

Previous meetings by Foreign Minister Champagne with Chinese counterparts had led to no real movement on the issues. Recently, officials have been working with the U.s to get more support on the issue. In a phone call on Sat, Prime Minister Trudeau thanked U.S President Trump for his “ongoing support” in the effort to secure release of the two Michaels.

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