Biden and Canada

      Comments Off on Biden and Canada

What Canada can expect from Joe Biden: Former Canadian diplomat to U.S. shares his view of post-Trump era

Ahmar Khan

·5 min read

Joseph R. Biden is the 46th President of the United States. His inauguration marks the end of one of the most tumultuous ends to a presidency. Biden is succeeding Donald Trump, but more importantly, he’s taking the reins of a country that has grown more fractured over the past four years, and one that had become the source of anxiety and ridicule globally. But, to some, Biden’s inauguration is a moment of calm in the comfort of a global crisis.

“The inauguration represents relief and hope for the future,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat to the United States.

Robertson, who has worked in the U.S. for years as a diplomat, and met Biden on a handful of occasions, thinks the country is getting a leader that not only knows what he’s doing, but will be a comforting hand during a time of crisis.

“He is somebody with a tremendous amount of experience and empathy, which America needs right now,” said Robertson.

Biden’s empathy was on display on Tuesday, as he and Vice President Kamala Harris held a moment of silence and honoured the more than 400,000 Americans that have died during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I thought that was quite moving. I thought that was quite sensible and it’s a good sign for things to come,” he said.

The pandemic isn’t the only thing that the incoming Biden administration will have to stickhandle, as they face a worsening economic crisis caused by the pandemic, a social justice movement that is calling for systemic change, and the looming doom of climate change.

“It’s an awful lot to throw at any administration. This is extraordinary and will be a real challenge and test of his political will,” said Robertson.

What we can expect in the Canada-U.S. relationship

What a Biden administration means for Canada

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden is set to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project on his first day in office. National affairs editor Chris Hall breaks down what this decision and others expected from the new administration mean for Canada.

Not only will Biden face challenges within his own country, but he’ll have to work to rebuild the Canada-U.S. alliance, one that was on shaky legs following scandal after scandal.

“We can develop a better relationship, one that will serve Canada extremely well. Whether it’s the COVID-19 recovery and how we manage this, reopening the border, creating vaccines, there will be a lot of discussion between the two countries,” said Robertson.

When assessing how a Biden presidency will impact Canada, Robertson noted the Trump presidency was rife with protectionist ideals, desire to not be globalists and refusal to work with allied countries. However, he thinks all that changes with Biden.

“For Canada, this offers an opportunity for reset, and I think we should see that. And instead of getting bogged down and by the irritants and protectionism of America, we’re going to get back to working together,” he said.

For a relationship that has seemed testy for the past four years, as Trudeau and Trump have traded some barbs through the media, Robertson thinks there will be a closer relationship with the two state-of-heads going forward, especially on issues surrounding the pandemic.

“Americans always appreciate the intelligence we bring to the table, especially if it’s something that they haven’t heard before. The Americans are always receptive,” he said.

Rebuilding America’s global image

For years now, world leaders have made America the butt of the joke, respect and admiration has dwindled for the U.S. But, Robertson thinks Biden, who he calls a “real statesmen” will have an opportunity to rebuild the American image.

“It’s a return to an American president who wants to lead, who will represent the best of America, and someone who is a multilateralist and internationalist,” he said.

In the past four years, the U.S. has left a series of global agreements: most recently they departed the WHO, have talked about leaving NATO, negotiated NAFTA, exited the Paris Climate Accord, left the Trans-Pacific Partnership, withdrew from UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council and tore up the Iran deal. In Robertson’s eyes, Trump’s willingness to exit global partnerships has affected the U.S. relationship with a lot of countries, and that is part of what makes Biden so appealing.

“International institutions that were set up will benefit from the new American leadership, they will come in with less of a protectionist attitude and American can work its way to being a world leader again,” said Roberston.

Trump and the Republican Party

Trump leaves office with vow to return ‘in some form’

U.S. President Donald Trump formally left the White House after a struggle to hang on to office by trying to overturn the results of a democratic election.

As for the outgoing president and from his involvement in the insurrection to his desire not to attend the inauguration, Robertson thinks Trump is far from leaving the public spotlight.

“I think Trump will continue to be a pain and he will continue to do what he does best, promote Donald Trump.”

On Tuesday, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell skewered and assigned blame for the Capitol Hill riots on Trump, insisting he was part of a group that had urged them to incite violence. The rebuke of Trump was the first of what could be many, as McConnell along with Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy and Vice President Mike Pence all skipped out on the President’s departure.

“I’m hoping the Republican Party will move away from him, but I don’t think it’ll happen quickly because he’s got a lot of sway in the party…I hope that the Republican Party returns to what it was before Donald Trump,” said Robertson.’

Trudeau should lead with shared interests in Biden agenda: Former Canadian diplomat

Colin Robertson, former Canadian diplomat, VP and fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, joins BNN Bloomberg to discuss Canada-U.S. relations ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden. He says that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should lead with the shared interests with the U.S. in order to start building a stronger relationship.

Canada and BIden

      Comments Off on Canada and BIden

Trudeau should lead with shared interests in Biden agenda: Former Canadian diplomat

Colin Robertson, former Canadian diplomat, VP and fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, joins BNN Bloomberg to discuss Canada-U.S. relations ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden. He says that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should lead with the shared interests with the U.S. in order to start building a stronger relationship.

Challenges ahead despite major shift in Canada-U.S. relations under President Biden: expert


Posted Jan 20, 2021 11:14 am PST

Canada and U.S. flags fly in the wind at the Douglas-Peace Arch border crossing, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, March 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The PM congratulated President Joe Biden, speaking of strong ties between the U.S. and Canada

A former diplomat says Biden’s presidency marks a shift in relations, but there will still be challenges ahead

The Keystone pipeline could bring friction at the beginning, Colin Robertson says

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – The official swearing of President Joe Biden marks a shift in Canada-U.S. relations over the past four years, yet one expert says there will still be challenges ahead with the new administration.

Shortly after Biden became the 46th president of the United States Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his congratulations, speaking of the strong ties and common interests between Canada and the U.S.

“Our two countries are more than neighbours – we are close friends, partners, and allies,” Trudeau writes.

Colin Robertson, a former diplomat who was posted in Washington, says it will be like night and day for Canada, bringing stability and confidence to the Canada-U.S. relationship after years of working with an unpredictable administration.

“Most western leaders, collectively, are sighing relief,” he says, noting the prime minister and the new president have more in common when it comes to political views.While Trudeau says he looks forward to working with Biden on combatting the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on economic recovery, and advancing climate action, Robertson says there will be hurdles ahead, pointing to the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline between the two countries.

Robertson believes this could cause friction in the early days.

“Mr. Trudeau can raise it, the Alberta government will continue to push, and we’ll wind up in litigation,” he says.

Related Stories:

Ahead of Biden’s inauguration, TC Energy suspended work on the pipeline in anticipation of its permits being revoked. Opposition parties on both sides of the pipeline debate called on Trudeau to take a stand earlier this week.

It’s also unclear at this point, how Biden plans to approach the tensions with China and the detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, however, Robertson believes the president will be a greater ally in the country’s fight for their release.

Biden also campaigned on Buy American policies, and like his predecessor, he may want Canada to play a bigger role in NATO.

“I think he’ll push us to do more in defence,” Roberston suggests.

Trudeau ended his statement on welcoming the president by saying, “I look forward to working with President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, their administration, and the United States Congress as we strive to make our countries safer, more prosperous, and more resilient.”

An Agenda for Canada with BIden

      Comments Off on An Agenda for Canada with BIden

How Canada can leverage Biden’s agenda as part of government relations reset

Government can put focus on opportunities in new presidential agenda rather than on old irritants

President-elect Joe Biden, left, will be sworn in Jan. 20 in Washington. He has set himself a formidable to-do list that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, should be mindful of when the leaders hold their first meeting after the inauguration, writes former diplomat Colin Robertson. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press, Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

This column is an opinion by Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and now vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Joe Biden’s return to the White House, this time as president, gives Canada a chance to reset what has been a tempestuous ride with Donald Trump.

Biden has set himself a formidable to-do list: the pandemic; economic recovery; climate; racial justice; restoring democracy.

For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first meeting with Biden after his inauguration, the government needs to look closely at that agenda. Rather than focusing on the perennial irritants, it should identify where Canada can offer help and solutions, because we share many of these challenges.

Biden’s immediate priority is vaccinating Americans so the country can recover socially and economically from COVID-19, and Trudeau has the same focus. The multilateral response to the pandemic could have been much more effective and would have benefited all if our two nations had collaborated from the outset. But it’s not too late to start.

Some of our best practices will also have application in hard-pressed developing nations, and what better demonstration that “America is back” and “ready to lead the world,” as Biden put it, than to work closer with Canada and share what we have jointly learned about dealing with this virus.

President-elect Joe Biden has promised to make rejoining the Paris agreement on climate change one of his priorities. (Matt Slocum/The Associated Press)

On climate, if Biden rejoins the Paris Agreement as promised, Canada and the U.S. will be back in sync in terms of emission-reduction targets. Together, we need to look to November’s Glasgow conference and what we want to accomplish there, as it will be both a stock-taking of Paris commitments and a setting of new goals.

With this in mind, Trudeau should offer to lead a North American approach to carbon pricing, including instituting a border tax on imports from those nations that don’t meet their climate commitments.

Closer collaboration would also involve identifying best practices and areas for shared research, including initiatives at the state and provincial level. If Mexico were asked to join in, it would go a long way to reviving North American collaboration in other areas as well, like immigration and addressing some of the troubles involving Mexico’s Central American neighbours.

On the issue of mutual defence, unlike Trump, Biden has indicated he believes in collective security and that he embraces NATO. Meanwhile, our binational NORAD agreement needs renewal, and an Arctic strategy is the missing piece in Canada’s defence policy.

American presidents from Ronald Reagan on have told us that if Canada claims sovereignty over the North, then we must exercise it. If we dither, the U.S. will set the parameters for us. To avoid this, we need to quickly take the lead in proposing a joint strategy. Reinvesting in our Arctic would also spark a northern economic renaissance, as well as secure the critical minerals vital to advanced manufacturing.

Joining Biden’s proposed club of democracies also makes sense, especially if it focuses on human rights, development goals, setting digital standards, and strengthening nascent democracies. Likewise, standing up to the authoritarians, especially China, is overdue.

China’s a la carte approach to multilateralism means scooping up the benefits of globalization while ignoring the rules and conventions of global institutions. As a result, China will likely dominate the Biden administration’s foreign and security policy deliberations. As part of those deliberations, Canada needs President Biden to promise that any deal lifting the U.S. extradition request for Meng Wanzhou will include freeing the two Michaels – Canadians Kovrig and Spavor, detained in China since December 2018.

With Canada having about 300,000 expatriates at risk in Hong Kong, we should also offer to co-lead, with Britain, a G7 approach to sustaining the liberties that China guaranteed to Hong Kong.

Michael Spavor, left, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, right, have been in Chinese custody since December 2018 after being charged with spying. (The Associated Press/International Crisis Group/The Canadian Press)

And we must carefully strategize confrontations involving the U.S. itself.

In his first conversation with the president-elect on Nov. 9 after the U.S. election, Prime Minister Trudeau pressed him on the Keystone XL pipeline that Biden has repeatedly pledged to rescind.

The arguments supporting Keystone XL are unchanged: as one of 70 pipelines that crisscross our border, it safely supplements American energy independence with a secure and reliable supply of oil. And innovations by oilsands producers have significantly reduced the industry’s environmental footprint. Biden already knows all this. But could he really be expected to go back on his promise to environmentalists, a key constituency in his fragile Democratic government?

Leading with your chin is a bad idea, and Canada needs to be pragmatic.

Indeed, reports Sunday indicated that Biden plans to rescind permission for the pipeline in his first day in office. If that turns out to be the case, Keystone XL is an important issue that requires ongoing attention through different levels of government, but we also need to be realistic in our expectations. The Harper government made Keystone XL the litmus test of its relationship with the Obama administration and it was a mistake, frustrating progress on other issues.

Meanwhile, a pipeline we should be vigorously defending is the 65-year-old Line 5 that Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer wants closed. This pipeline supplies about 45 per cent of the crude oil used by Ontario and Quebec.

Biden’s decision on Keystone XL a political headache, economic blow for Canada

22 hours agoVideo


Joe Biden’s apparent plan to swifty stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline may not have been a surprise in political circles, but it will certainly be a headache for Justin Trudeau’s government and be an economic blow for Alberta. 2:20

Let’s also be realistic about Buy American, which is integral to Biden’s trillion-dollar Made in America and Build Back Better initiatives.

It’s equally unlikely that he’ll back away from these plans, but we should remember how Canada finessed former president Barack Obama’s big build economic recovery initiative. With state-level procurement outside of the NAFTA deal, then-prime minister Stephen Harper turned to the Council of the Federation. Led by premiers Brad Wall and Jean Charest, they negotiated a reciprocity agreement with their governor counterparts that gave Canadians a piece of the pie.

Keystone XL and Buy America remind us that our close, deep and profitable U.S. trade relationship requires a calibrated approach involving different levels of government. Several of the provinces have representation in Washington. Quebec has long had offices throughout the U.S., for example, and provincial efforts complement those of our Embassy and consulates; indeed on issues like Keystone they effectively lead. The Canadian tendency to push it all to the top-level leaders is self-defeating.

When presidents meet with prime ministers, they expect top-table discussions befitting G7 and G20 leaders. Effective relations with the new Biden administration will mean dealing with problems at the appropriate level – including cabinet officers, premiers and governors, and our ambassadors. This obliges us to invest in our diplomatic service so that we can bring their intelligence-gathering to the negotiating table.

The new U.S. administration wants to reset relationships with its friends and allies. By seizing this opportunity and being creative in identifying solutions to our shared interests, as well as leveraging opportunities through multiple levels of government, we ultimately advance Canadian interests.

A welcome mat at the White House magnifies Canada’s influence with the rest of the world.


Colin Robertson is a former Canadian diplomat and is vice president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Primer to the Inauguration

      Comments Off on Primer to the Inauguration


What Canadians Need to Know About the Biden Inauguration

by Colin Robertson 
CGAI Vice-President and Fellow
January 2021


Table of Contents


At noon on Wednesday, January 20, 2021, pursuant to the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, Joe Biden will place his left hand on a Bible, and raising his right hand before Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, he will “swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” George Washington added the phrase “so help me God” to the 35-word vow and few presidents have departed from this tradition. Thus will formally begin the Biden administration.


Joe Biden takes oath of office as vice-president January 2009

As with last summer’s Democratic National Convention, “to ensure that the inauguration ceremony on January 20 honors and resembles sacred American traditions while keeping Americans safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19,” it will be modest and, for most who would normally be there, a virtual experience. Missing will be the traditional balls, parties and the crowds at the Capitol and down the Mall. The traditional parade is to be “reimagined”. However, the main concern is not COVID but those in denial over the election results. The recent turmoil on Capitol Hill and threats from Donald Trump’s supporters mean there will be a highly visible security presence, including a 25,000-member contingent from the National Guard. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) issued a joint statement saying “we are taking the extraordinary step of encouraging Americans not to come to Washington” and air, train and bridge access to the capital is curtailed.

Trump, the perpetrator of the turmoil, does not plan to attend the ceremony on the western steps of the Capitol building. He leaves the White House with the lowest job approval rating of his presidency (29 per cent) and increasingly negative ratings for his post-election conduct. The U.S.’s ratings among its allies plummeted after he took office in 2017 and then continued to sink, in part due to the widespread perception that the U.S. has handled the coronavirus pandemic poorly. He also leaves, writes the Washington Post’s Dan Balz, “a broken Republican Party.”  During his four-year term, Trump “ideologically twisted a party that once had a coherent conservative governing philosophy, which he does not. He put a vice grip on the party’s grass roots and persuaded many of them to believe that truth does not matter. He opened up the party’s coalition to an emboldened white supremacist movement.”  Impeached a second time by the House of Representatives, Trump will soon face a second trial with the Democrats in the majority, but whether they can convince 17 Republicans to join them in mustering the necessary 2/3 majority for conviction is to be determined. Unfortunately for Biden, part of the Trump legacy is to leave many of the more than 70 million who voted for him believing his lie that the election was stolen from him.


That Trump will not attend the inauguration is a “good thing,” said Biden, tartly observing in the wake of the ransacking of Capitol Hill, that Trump “exceeded even my worst notions about him … He’s been an embarrassment to the country.” Vice-President Mike Pence is expected to appear, together with all living former presidents and their spouses — with the exception of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, now 96 and 93.

The theme of the inauguration, “America United”, kicked off January 16 with “America United: An Inauguration Welcome Event Celebrating America’s Changemakers” and will continue with events on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 18), a national holiday, followed by a nationwide “COVID-19 Memorial to Lives Lost” on January 19. To compensate for the pomp and circumstance that usually go with an inauguration, the inaugural committee has produced a 90-minute television special, “Celebrating America”. Hosted by Tom Hanks, it features performances from Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, Foo Fighters, Ant Clemons and Jon Bon Jovi.

On the mornings of past inaugurations, presidents since Franklin Roosevelt have gone to St. John’s Church, across from the White House in Lafayette Square, for a prayer service. Lafayette Square is where Trump infamously raised the Bible last June during a protest over the killing of George Floyd. The prayer service is a tradition that dates back to George Washington. Since FDR’s day, it has been held at the National Cathedral in whose crypts are interred Woodrow Wilson, Cordell Hull and Helen Keller.


The curtailed ceremony is bad news for Canada as the roof of the Canadian embassy, overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, is the best vantage point from which to watch the parade and a superb opportunity for outreach and public diplomacy. While working there, I watched the second Bush inaugural. We flew all our flags and posted a banner extolling the Canada-U.S. partnership as “friends, neighbours, allies”. Our guests included newly elected West Virginia governor (and now Senator) Joe Manchin, former speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator John McCain. As a midshipman at Annapolis, McCain had marched in the second inaugural for Dwight Eisenhower. He knew marching bands like no one I have ever met and, for nearly an hour and a half, he provided colour commentary for me from the balcony. It was very cold and his daughter, who lived in Toronto, came out and encouraged him to come inside. He smiled and told her that he’d been in “worse situations”.


The Ceremony

Until 1936, the inauguration took place on March 4, originally to give the Electoral College time to meet after the election. After the long lame-duck period between Herbert Hoover’s defeat in November 1932 and FDR’s inauguration in March 1933, the Constitution was amended to set January 20 for the inauguration and January 3 for the start of the new Congress.

From the inauguration of the first Democratic president, Andrew Jackson, in 1829, the ceremony was performed on the east side of the Capitol Building, facing the Supreme Court and Library of Congress.

With his eye for the camera and for his audience, Ronald Reagan moved the ceremony to the west side. Its splendid vista looks straight down the Mall to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Subsequent ceremonies have stayed on the west side of the Capitol ever since.

The formal ceremony will begin with the U.S. Marine Band (traditionally playing “Hail to the Chief”) and will include an invocation from Father Leo J. O’Donovan, a Biden family friend, with firefighter Andrea Hall leading the Pledge of Allegiance. Jennifer Lopez will sing. Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, will recite a poem, a tradition that began with Robert Frost reading “The Gift Outright” to John F. Kennedy in 1961. After the oaths of office and inaugural address, Reverend Dr. Silvester Beaman, another Biden family friend, will give the benediction, and to conclude the ceremony, Lady Gaga will sing the Star-Spangled Banner.


Joe Biden takes the oath of office as vice-president, January 2013


The Inaugural Address

Listen carefully to Biden’s speech.  As the astute Democratic Whip, James E. Clyburn, engineer of the Biden turnaround in South Carolina, observes: “People are really anxious. This marks a turning point. We can see it, we can feel it. It’s a very significant break. And we will hear it in his speech … People want to believe in their country, to feel this democracy is worth saving.”

The inaugural address sets the vision for the administration. Every word is carefully chosen. It is the first formal pronouncement as president and the audience goes beyond the American people to include America’s allies, adversaries and enemies.  When successful — as with presidents Abraham Lincoln, FDR and Kennedy — it is a call to action, complete with ringing phrases that become part of our dialogue.

Taking office during calamitous economic turmoil, FDR was bluntly honest: “A host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.” Kennedy gave perhaps the most evocative speech in living memory with phrases like: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

George Washington gave the shortest inaugural speech, at 135 words. He said: “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” In delivering the longest address: 8,445 words in 1841, William Henry Harrison caught a cold and died of pneumonia, or possibly typhoid, a month later.

There is usually a three-part pattern to the inaugural address. In times of continuity, presidents underline the American ability to come together after a hard-fought campaign. In times of a change in party, presidents usually praise America’s democratic commitment to a peaceful and orderly transition. Barack Obama’s first speech underlined change, the theme of his successful campaign, and called for a “new era of responsibility”. Trump took a very different approach with his depiction of “carnage” in America and “America First”. We can expect Biden to emphasize national unity and reconciliation and talk about getting Americans back to work with emphasis on the segments of the population and sectors of the economy that have been hit the hardest.

The second part of the address usually describes the problems facing the nation and the world. Biden has plenty to talk about here – the domestic priorities, starting with a health-care disaster and a deteriorating economy, racial injustice and economic inequality regarding race, justice and equity. He likely will talk about climate change and climate justice. He probably will speak about renewing and reinvigorating America’s commitment to traditional American values and principles. We can expect him to pledge to have an ethically based administration.

Biden will likely talk about the international challenges: the resumption of great-power rivalry with China and Russia, and the continuing global threats of climate change, displaced peoples and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. During my posting at our Washington embassy, I had several impromptu conversations with Biden, then chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If there was one theme, it was his commitment to multilateralism and American leadership of the rules-based system.

For Biden, the message to allies, friends and partners is likely to be a commitment to close partnership based on shared values inherent to liberal democracies: human rights, the rights of women and minorities, the commitment to the rule of law and the commitment to climate mitigation. Expect him to put on notice illiberal democracies and authoritarians. He will vocally support multilateralism and international organizations. He will likely recommit to NATO, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, announce a return to the Paris Climate Accord, a halt to the withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) and, we hope, support reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO). There may even be an indication about a successor to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

There is a tendency to assume Americans have slipped into a Trumpian isolationism but a recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which has tracked 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, Biden 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.”


The third part of the speech will accentuate the American capacity for innovation and the strength of American institutions. The ability to solve problems is fundamental to the American spirit. Biden will likely say that his reinvigorated domestic and foreign policies will be the platform for the demonstration of American values and American leadership.  Lyndon Johnson put it best in 1965 when he said: “If we succeed it will not be because of what we have, but it will be because of what we are; not because of what we own, but rather because of what we believe.”

If the inaugural address sets the vision for the new administration, the blueprint for action, usually previewing the president’s budget and economic forecast, comes next month in the president’s annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. Last week, Biden set out his initial priorities for Congress: a nearly $2 trillion short-term relief plan that includes a nationwide vaccination effort, including boosting vaccine production and delivery, creating public awareness campaigns and providing for emergency hiring in the public health sector. It also includes an expansion of the child tax credit, $2,000 stimulus payments for individuals and an extension of enhanced unemployment insurance through September.


The First Days

Biden takes office in the midst of a public health crisis which has created an economic crisis. They collide with a social crisis over race, gender and class and the ongoing climate crisis.

Biden will begin with a 10-day series of executive orders, directives and a legislative package designed to address the four overlapping and compounding crises. Of interest to Canada, this reportedly includes rescinding the Keystone Pipeline permit.

In a memorandum to the incoming White House senior staff, chief of staff Ron Klain said Biden “will sign roughly a dozen actions to combat the four crises, restore humanity to our immigration system, and make government function for the people.”

These will include rejoining the Paris Agreement, reversing the Muslim travel ban and extending the existing pause on loan payments and interest for millions of Americans with federal student loans. It will also include implementing “Buy American” “so the future of America is made in America … and, we will take action to extend nationwide restrictions on evictions and foreclosures and provide more than 25 million Americans greater stability, instead of living on the edge every month.” Biden will launch his “100 Day Masking Challenge” by issuing a mask mandate for federal property and interstate travel.

The Klain memo also says: “He will fulfill his promises to restore dignity to our immigration system and our border policies, and start the difficult but critical work of reuniting families separated at the border. And, President-elect Biden will demonstrate that America is back and take action to restore America’s place in the world.”

Klain also lays out the congressional agenda: “The president-elect made the case for his first major legislative proposal earlier this week, and will continue to advance legislative solutions to critical problems, such as in the immigration bill he will send to Congress on his first day in office; the build back better recovery proposal to create millions of good-paying union jobs that he will unveil in the coming weeks; and his ongoing support for legislation related to voting rights, the minimum wage, combatting violence against women, and more.”

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin compares it to the challenges FDR faced over the Great Depression and Lincoln with the Civil War. “It’s huge what he’s facing,” observes Goodwin, adding: “History has shown when you have crises like this, it’s an opportunity for leaders to mobilize resources of the federal government … All the presidents we remember, they dealt with a crisis. When you’re given that chance, the question is: Are you fitted for that moment?” As Goodwin writes in her book, Team of Rivals on the Lincoln presidency, a lot depends on the team charged with implementing the Biden vision.


The Biden Team

“The president shall nominate and, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States.”

— U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 2, clause 2

In setting the agenda, Biden needs to put his team together, starting with his cabinet officers. Having served six terms as a senator and two terms as vice-president, the 78-year-old Biden is arguably the most experienced to take office since John Quincy Adams. Campaigning on a pledge to build a cabinet “that looks like America”, Biden’s nominations include women and minorities. Robert Gates, who served eight presidents, including as defence secretary to both George W. Bush and Obama, observes that the one thing they shared was that: “each one … understood he did not have all the answers, and surrounded himself with experienced, thoughtful people who would give good advice, and they were willing to listen.”

Many of those named are alumni of Obama’s two terms in office or worked with Biden while he was a senator. Anthony Blinken, the new secretary of state, served as deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration (and when I met him, he was staff director to then-Senate Foreign Relations chair Biden) and one of his first tasks is a major rebuilding job in the professional ranks of the demoralized U.S. Foreign Service.  Tom Vilsack returns as agriculture secretary. Former secretary of state and long-time Massachusetts Senator John Kerry will be special envoy on climate. Denis McDonough, Obama’s former chief of staff, will lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Former national security adviser and UN ambassador Susan Rice will head the White House Domestic Policy Council and former UN Ambassador Samantha Power becomes administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Kurt Campbell, the architect of the “pivot to Asia”, becomes Indo-Pacific co-ordinator in the National Security Council. Incoming CIA director and career ambassador Bill Burns was formerly deputy secretary of state.

There is also a handful from Congress including Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), incoming Housing and Urban Development secretary and Native American Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), incoming Department of the Interior secretary. Biden chose Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) as director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Unlike in Canada, with its permanent and non-partisan public service, the president picks the most senior 5,000 or so jobs in the executive branch. Their selection is not subject to competition but rather to the president’s prerogative. When Kennedy was president, only about 280 executive branch positions required Senate approval but that number has since escalated into four digits. These positions, as well as the several thousand that are the prerogative of the legislative branch, can be found in the Plum Book.

The most important positions, all of which require Senate consent, are the cabinet secretaries and agency heads. Confirmation hearings have already begun. Canadian cabinet ministers and senior civil servants should get to know their counterparts because it’s all about relationships. Their backgrounds are a reminder of the importance of involving all Canadian elected officials, especially those at the federal, provincial and territorial levels, in reaching out to their American counterparts to advance Canadian interests. You never know where those people will wind up. Early connections can pay rich dividends, but it’s up to us to take the initiative.

Nomination hearings can be the stuff of Hollywood screenplays — a packed room with a full complement of senators both defending and “prosecuting” the nominee. This is often the case with judicial appointments, as I witnessed during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in January 2006.

But as often as not, they are routine — almost cavalierly so — as I saw with the Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere subcommittee nomination hearing in May 2005 for South Carolina speaker David Wilkins. He became the second Bush ambassador to Canada. Chair Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican senator, was the sole member on the dais. Wilkins’s advocates, essentially character witnesses, were led by the senior senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, with two senators — Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Jim DeMint of South Carolina — speaking their support. Wilkins gave a brief statement about Canada-U.S. relations and his objectives, and there were a few questions from Coleman on security, ballistic missile defence, border transit and the problems encountered by Minnesota fishermen on Lake of the Woods (a reminder that all politics is local). It was over within 36 minutes. Then-Senator Biden chaired the full committee confirmation and Senate confirmation followed quickly. There was a celebratory send-off for Wilkins in the Benjamin Franklin room on the eighth floor of the State Department. Franklin is considered to be the father of the American foreign service.


Source: Washington Post


U.S. Ambassador to Canada

The job that most directly affects Canadians and the one person who thinks about Canada 24/7 is the U.S. ambassador, a position that the Senate must also confirm.

From a Canadian perspective, we want an ambassador who has the president’s confidence and the ability to pick up the phone and get through to the White House. We also want them to have a good working relationship with their counterpart at the Canadian embassy in Washington. These two individuals are effectively the quarterbacks of the relationship. By working together, they can resolve or keep in play the many vexing transactional problems that should be solved at their level rather than adding to their leaders’ already crowded agendas.

U.S. ambassadors are usually political in background. Jim Blanchard of Michigan (Bill Clinton) and Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts (Bush 43) were former governors. Wilkins (Bush 43) had served as speaker of the South Carolina legislature. Gordon Giffin (Clinton) was a businessman-lawyer and elector from Georgia who had served as a senior advisor to Senator Sam Nunn. Both Obama ambassadors, David Jacobson and Bruce Heyman, came from the private sector but their efforts, especially in fundraising, helped earned them their place. Kelly Knight Craft (Trump), also came from the private sector but with extensive political experience. She would go on to become U.S. ambassador to the UN. Craft had an impeccable contact list in the White House and among congressional and state Republicans. Having an extensive contact list with state officials, members of Congress and within the administration makes a big difference.

Given the rigours of financial and security scrutiny, Biden’s ambassador is not likely to be confirmed until summer. To get a sense of their priorities, it is worth looking at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s confirmation testimony in July 2020 by Trump’s ambassador-designate Aldona Wos, who was never confirmed. The priority areas for Canada-U.S. international focus were identified as China, Russia/Ukraine, Iran, Venezuela, counterterrorism, cyber-security and the 5G network standards, peacekeeping and the Arctic.


Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau 2016 Source PMO


Twitches and Grunts: Canada Prepares for the New Administration

“Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.”

– John F. Kennedy to the Canadian Parliament, May 17, 1961

That the Kennedy quotation is still a staple for pundits and speechwriters trying to capture the essence of Canada-U.S. relations is a tribute not just to its eloquent brevity but to its accuracy. The relationship is a good one, with the last formal conflict over 200 years ago. Since then, we have been a model of what FDR described as “good neighbourly relations”. If Kennedy captured the relationship’s zeitgeist, FDR described how it works:

We as good neighbours are true friends because we maintain our own rights with frankness, because we refuse to accept the twists of secret diplomacy, because we settle our disputes by consultation and because we discuss our common problems in the spirit of the common good. We seek to be scrupulously fair and helpful, not only in our relations with each other, but each of us at home with our own people.

FDR and Mackenzie King put in the trade and security foundations which subsequent administrations and governments have built on. Environmental co-operation dates back even earlier to the bi-national International Joint Commission (1909) that manages our waterways.

If the U.S. focuses on the global scene and is always interested in our perspective – which is why Canada needs a first-class diplomatic service – Canadians naturally concentrate on the bilateral issues. The issues tend to be divided into three groups: trade, economics and investment; climate, environment and energy; defence, security and intelligence.

Our embassy and Ambassador Kirsten Hillman have been reaching out for months to those who will be a part of the new administration, reminding them of, and sensitizing them to, the nuts and bolts of the relationship and identifying areas of policy alignment, especially joint economic recovery and dealing with COVID-19.

Several provinces also have representatives in Washington. Quebec has long had a network of offices throughout the U.S. Working together, the different levels of government complement and reinforce the Canadian message, and this was most visibly illustrated in the recent renegotiation of the North American economic accord – the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement.

Of immediate concern is the future of the Keystone XL pipeline, the permit for which Biden will reportedly rescind as one of his first actions. More than 70 pipelines criss-cross the border, but KXL has taken on mythic symbolism for the environmentalists who constitute a key piece in the Democratic Party coalition. Another contentious pipeline is Line 5, crossing Michigan en route to Ontario and Quebec, which Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer threatens to close. Then there is “Buy America”, a perennial irritant in the relationship that defies the logic of closer economic integration but has continuing appeal to local interests on both sides of the border.

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 received more than 1/3 of our foreign investment and accounted for about half of our foreign direct investment. The United States remains Canada’s main investment partner. 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 nine million, while 1.9 million Canadian jobs are related to Canada’s exports to the U.S.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 400,000 people and US$2 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 U.S. sought to create a North American security perimeter), public health will now be part of the screening process.

Former secretary of state George Shultz described the depth and breadth of the Canada-U.S. relationship to me as a garden that needs constant attention. He is right and because the relationship is asymmetrical – the U.S., at least in trade terms, matters more to us than we do to them – Canada must wage a permanent campaign, using all levels of government and enlisting business, labour and civil society in making its case in the U.S. The late prime minister Pierre Trudeau remarked in 1969 when he travelled to Washington to meet with new president Richard Nixon: “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

No matter the administration, the twitches and grunts never go away.TOP OF PAGE


Further Reading

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). Kamala Harris has also written a biography, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey (2019).

There is a wealth of ideas generated in recent years by the incoming foreign policy and national security team, including speeches and articles by Anthony BlinkenJake SullivanKurt CampbellBill Burns and Samantha Power.

For a sense of Biden, read his “Why America Must Lead Again” article in Foreign Affairs (2020) in which he wrote 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.” Writing in a 2017 New York Times op-ed, he said: “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.”

Both Brookings and the Council on Foreign Relations have analyzed Biden’s foreign and national security policies. For public opinion surveys, look to the Pew Research Center 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 U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy.

Foreign Minister Marc Garneau

      Comments Off on Foreign Minister Marc Garneau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has picked a former astronaut to be Canada’s top diplomat as a new administration takes shape in Washington — and as speculation mounts of a federal election this year.

Marc Garneau, who has served as Trudeau’s transportation minister since 2015, takes over the foreign affairs portfolio from François-Philippe Champagne, who’s shifting to the government’s innovation, science and industry ministry. Liberal MP Omar Alghabra takes over at Transport Canada.

The Quebec MP was Canada’s first astronaut in outer space and ran the Canadian Space Agency during the early 2000s before entering federal Liberal politics. He once ran for leadership of the party.Garneau’s relationships with government officials in the U.S. and his reputation as a workhorse make him a logical choice to lead Canada’s diplomatic arm as Democrat Joe Biden prepares to move into the White House, cross-border experts said Tuesday. But that’s likely not the only motivator for the mini-Cabinet shuffle.

“This has as much to do with the government sort of clearing the decks as they go into what will be their last session before an election,” Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat in the U.S., said of speculation that the Liberals could use their next budget to force an election.

Trudeau denied Tuesday that he’s angling for an election and noted that as leader of a minority government he is not in control of opposition party decisions.

Garneau takes the helm at Global Affairs Canada 14 months after Trudeau made Champagne foreign minister. But responsibility for the Canada-U.S. relationship during much of that time was centralized with now-Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, who spearheaded NAFTA renegotiations for Ottawa and has a deep well of Washington connections. Her ownership of those relationships spurred some initial confusion as Trudeau made Cabinet changes during his second mandate to who was in charge.

“I believe very, very strongly that no bilateral relationship is more important than that of Canada with the United States, and it will continue to be that way,” Garneau told reporters Tuesday.

No one Cabinet minister will have responsibility for the Canada-U.S. relationship, PMO spokesperson Ann-Clara Vaillancourt explained on Tuesday, adding that each one is expected to work with their counterparts at corresponding U.S. departments.

Robertson said the prime minister will need to be clear about who in his Cabinet is holding the reins on the bilateral relationship, citing confusion around Champagne’s role on the file. “The question I have is, who’s responsible for the United States?” he told POLITICO.

Garneau is no stranger to the U.S. He lived in Houston, home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, for nine years in the 1980s and 1990s. He led the Cabinet’s Canada-U.S. relations committee during USMCA talks, and he served as the Liberals’ foreign affairs critic before the party’s 2015 electoral victory.

The Quebecer has established relationships with state and local government officials in the U.S. and is “highly regarded,” said Dan Ujczo, a trade attorney at Thompson Hine in Columbus, Ohio.

“He’s really been on the ground in the U.S.,” he said.

“A number of Canada-U.S. issues will be at the state and provincial levels” in the coming years, he added, citing cross-border permitting for pipelines, bridges and electric transmission as examples. “He’s well known here.”

One of the big challenges Garneau will face is the inability to travel to ingratiate himself with those officials and with Biden’s incoming team.

“Zoom helps, but there’s no substitute to being there in the flesh,” said Mark Agnew, senior director of international policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Still, Garneau’s reputation as a reliable statesman with experience in the U.S. is a reflection of the type of international leadership Canada wants to project now, especially with a new and friendly administration in Washington, said Robertson, who compared the foreign minister to Secretary of State-designate Tony Blinken.

Blinken has held a variety of foreign policy and national security positions since the Clinton administration.

“These are individuals that are not all that dissimilar — their knowledge and their experience and steady hands — and aren’t looking to the next job,” Robertson said.

Trudeau and Capitol Hill

      Comments Off on Trudeau and Capitol Hill

As American aftershocks persist, Trudeau says riot ‘incited by current president’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Aftershocks shuddered through America’s political and cultural bedrock again Friday as shaken lawmakers forged ahead with plans to make Donald Trump the first U.S. president to be impeached a second time.

The ongoing implosion of the Trump presidency, less than two weeks from expiring of its own accord, has been steadily accelerating over the course of the 48 hours since Wednesday’s shocking siege of Capitol Hill.

The latest indignity came late Friday when Twitter, the social media platform that built his presidency and which he used daily to mobilize supporters, incense critics and rile up his 88 million followers, finally cut him off for good.

“After close review of recent tweets — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” the company said in a statement.

Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who over the course of the last four years has studiously avoided calling out the president by name, stopped pulling his punches.

“What we witnessed was an assault on democracy by violent rioters, incited by the current president and other politicians,” Trudeau said in a prepared statement during a news conference outside his Rideau Cottage residence.

“As shocking, deeply disturbing, and frankly saddening as that event remains — we have also seen this week that democracy is resilient in America, our closest ally and neighbour.

“Violence has no place in our societies, and extremists will not succeed in overruling the will of the people.”

Trump’s tenure as commander-in-chief hit its lowest point to date Wednesday when waves of angry supporters, fuelled by his persistent but fictional claims of a stolen election and exhortations to fight back, stormed up the steps of the Capitol.

They muscled their way past a meagre police presence and unleashed anarchy — smashing windows, upturning offices, desecrating monuments and terrorizing members of Congress. Five people died, including a Capitol police officer.

More than 24 hours later, Trump — seemingly chastened by the blast wave of outrage that ensued, including from his own staff and cabinet — acknowledged his defeat and promised a peaceful transition, infuriating some of his most fervent backers.

In online forums, users who typically preach loyalty to Trump abruptly changed their tune, calling the president’s statement “the final betrayal” and a “punch in the gut.”

Canada is not immune to the destabilizing forces that have brought the United States to the brink, Trudeau said as he urged Canadians to keep vigilant against the ever-present perils that might seek to undermine it.

Political leaders, he said, must always represent all of their constituents regardless of partisan stripe, and resist the temptation to engage in divisive, explosive rhetoric.

“We have a responsibility as Canadians to continue to lead with respect, to engage substantially with different points of view and to never resort to violence as a way of impacting public discourse,” Trudeau said.

“The choices we make as leaders, as politicians, have consequences. What we choose to say, what we choose not to say, how we choose to say it does have an impact on Canadians.”

Trudeau’s remarks drew mixed reviews in Canada.

The prime minister went too far, said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat with extensive experience in U.S. political circles. Republicans still have plenty of political power, even without control of the White House or the legislative branch.

“I don’t see how the latest remarks win us any points with the Biden team, and it is only going to confirm the Trumpists’ view that he’s ‘two-faced’ and can’t resist virtue-signalling.”

But after the storming of the Capitol, what little respect Trump retained is now gone, said Bessma Momani, an international affairs expert at the University of Waterloo.

“I doubt the president could enact any punitive actions against Canada in these remaining 12 days.”

America’s vaporous political atmosphere has some in the U.S. worried that a late-day impeachment proceeding risks rekindling the country’s fever-pitch tensions — particularly with a presidential inauguration 12 days away.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi feels differently: “This unhinged president could not be more dangerous,” she reportedly told Democrats on a conference call Friday.

Democratic leaders have been urging Vice-President Mike Pence to invoke a constitutional amendment that gives him and the federal cabinet the power to remove a president. Pelosi has promised impeachment proceedings if that doesn’t happen.

“From a political perspective, clearly, Trump went way too far,” said Eric Miller, a Canada-U.S. expert and president of the Rideau Potomac Strategy Group in Washington.

“(But) from an institutional perspective, in a constitutional republic, if one does not respect the basics of laws and the constitution and due process, then everybody is in deeper trouble.”

The decision of whether or not to launch impeachment proceedings, which some reports indicate could begin as soon as Monday, is for Congress to make on its own, said president-elect Joe Biden.

Biden refused to say whether he would support such an effort. He did say, however, that he hopes Congress is ready to hit the ground running once he’s inaugurated on Jan. 20.

“He is not fit to serve — he is one of the most incompetent presidents in the history of the United States of America,” Biden said.

“I think it’s important that we get on with business. Getting him out of office — the quickest way that will happen is us being sworn in on the 20th.”

On that day, the Capitol will again serve as a backdrop, just two weeks after the very location where Biden and incoming vice-president Kamala Harris will be sworn in was overrun by Trump supporters. Trump himself said Friday he won’t be there.

Biden said he’s not worried about security, since that’s a matter for the Secret Service, not the Capitol. Doubtless, between political tensions and the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s likely to be a much more nerve-racking affair than inaugurations past.

“I hope the inauguration is small, socially distant and only seen on TV,” Miller said. “We’re used to doing the big church wedding, but now it looks more appropriate to elope.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 8, 2021.

— With files from Mike Blanchfield in Ottawa

Biden, Congress and Canada

      Comments Off on Biden, Congress and Canada

What the Democrats’ crucial Senate-runoff victories mean for Canada

When U.S. president-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20, he will work with fellow Democrats who control both chambers of Congress, following the election of two Democratic senators in Georgia’s runoffs held earlier this week. The Democratic-run executive branch, House of Representatives, and Senate will make it easier for the new Biden administration to proceed with an agenda that, compared to President Donald Trump’s, more closely aligns with the political goals of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

By sweeping Georgia’s runoffs — in which Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock were elected following a do-over necessitated by the November election in which no top-finisher in the state won 50 per cent of the vote — the Democratic Senate caucus of 50 matches the Republicans’, but wins the tie-breaker because of the vote given to vice-president-elect Kamala Harris.

Experts on U.S.-Canada politics say one way the Democrats’ control of the Senate will influence the early days of the Biden presidency is by expanding his options when it comes time for him to nominate his ambassador to Canada.

Ambassadors need just 51 Senate votes to be confirmed, meaning Biden’s appointee won’t need a single Republican vote.

“Traditionally, (the ambassador to Canada) tends to be someone who was a political nominee, who has close relations with the president and the secretary of state,” John Faso, a former Republican representative for New York, told iPolitics in a phone call on Wednesday. “I would anticipate something like that in the future under the Biden administration.”

Biden’s administration will also have a view of the environment that’s a sharp 180-degree turn from Trump’s and that’s closer to Trudeau’s.

Indeed, Canada and the U.S. will collaborate more on climate policy, say both Faso and Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and current vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“On environmental issues, generally, I think we’re going to be very much in tandem with them,” Robertson said.

But Biden’s environmental agenda is also expected to meet resistance in the marginally controlled Senate.

“People would say, ‘Well, this means that Biden can get his ambitious climate agenda through,’ ” said Scotty Greenwood, Crestview Strategy’s partner and managing director in the U.S. “The truth is, you still have to get the handful of votes from the other side.”

Biden may be able to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, and reverse Trump’s loosening of pro-fossil fuel executive orders, but some of his most significant climate promises — such as banning new oil and gas permits on public lands and creating new regulations to curb emissions — will likely be held up in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to pass most legislation.

“I think some of the more dramatic — or radical, depending on your point of view — energy proposals are going to be hard,” Faso said. “I don’t see those passing the Senate in that context.”

Nor can all Democratic members of Congress be relied on to vote for sweeping changes to environmental laws. Several Democratic senators and representatives in the House, which the Democrats also hold by a slim margin, hail from states that depend heavily on revenue from the fossil fuels they produce.

One climate-related matter that Biden and Trudeau don’t agree on is the Keystone XL project. The oil pipeline would allow hundreds of thousands more barrels per day of Alberta crude to be transported to refining hubs and markets in the American Midwest and on the Gulf Coast.

A Republican bill that authorized Keystone XL cleared Congress in 2015, but it was vetoed by then-president Barack Obama. Trump revived the project, which has now been partially built, but Biden has promised to kill it. Trudeau says he’ll continue pushing the incoming president not to revoke the pipeline’s approval, but Robertson doesn’t believe that will work, due to the pipeline’s “symbolic importance” to climate activists who helped Biden win the presidency.

An executive order signed by Trump affirmed the president’s authority over cross-border projects like Keystone XL, almost certainly keeping any responsibility for it outside of the new Senate.

“I think it (will) be very hard for (Canada) to turn this around,” Robertson said, “so I wouldn’t lead with my chin on this one. Leave it to the industry, leave it to (pipeline) supporters in the United States, (and) leave it to Alberta.”

Another bilateral issue to which Biden is expected to bring change is trade. While Trump and Trudeau agreed to a new North American trade pact, Trump’s term was also mired in fights over softwood lumber, steel, and aluminum, and tit-for-tat tariffs that were sometimes paired with personal insults.

“While the tone is going to be very different between Biden and Trudeau, … I’m not sure the substance, at the end of the day, is going to be much different,” Faso said.

Members of the Canadian and American governments, including U.S. senators, will have to strengthen their trading relationship, he added.

“People on both sides, who want (us to) have a much more productive and integrated trade relationship, have to work hard to bring that about, because a lot of Americans — and frankly, unfortunately, many members of Congress — don’t fully appreciate how significant a trading partner Canada is with the United States,” Faso said.

When asked about the Senate runoff elections on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said he followed them closely.

“We look forward to working with the new Biden administration to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges, including urgent action on climate change, the strengthening of global multilateralism, and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Syrine Khoury, Champagne’s press secretary, wrote in an email.

“Canada looks forward to forging strong working relationships with members of the new Biden-Harris administration.”

US Election Analysis

      Comments Off on US Election Analysis

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

Alternate Text or Title of article
 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. MDT

Watch the Webinar

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

Watch Now

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.


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

      Comments Off on Election Uncertainty

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


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

      Comments Off on Trump or Biden

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



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.”


Never miss the latest news from the Star, including up-to-date coronavirus coverage, with our email newsletters. They’re free with your subscription.


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.”