Trudeau BIden meeting

      Comments Off on Trudeau BIden meeting

Trudeau, Biden’s first bilateral meeting to lay out future of Canada-U.S. relations


Feb 23, 2021 at 11:17 am MST

FILE – In this Dec. 9, 2016 file photo, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Biden will still host Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday for the first bilateral meeting but will do it virtually. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press via AP)

The prime minister and U.S. president will hold the first official bilateral meeting Tuesday afternoon

The two leaders are expected to lay out a road map for the future of Canada-U.S. relations

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Joe Biden meet virtually Tuesday afternoon, the two leaders will be looking to unveil a plan for Canada and the U.S.

The meeting will be the first official bilateral meeting since Biden took office, and a fact sheet released earlier in the day by the White House says this meeting is to set out a “road map” for Canada-U.S. relations.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who was posted in the U.S., said the map will set out goals in areas of mutual interest, including the COVID-19 response, climate change, economic recovery, and defence.

However, it’s not clear if this plan will include some of Canada’s priorities, such as procuring more COVID-19 vaccine doses made in the U.S., freeing Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig from China, or securing an exemption to Biden’s Buy American policy.

NDP Leader Jagemeet Singh said he wants to see Canada get an exemption from the policy.

“Given the fact that our economies are so integrated, products aren’t just made in Canada or America. Often the very same product goes over the border a couple of times,” he said.

Robertson expects Biden to Trudeau support when it comes to China, but he doesn’t think the president will make any promises when it comes to the Buy American approach. The former diplomat believes Biden will likely put off granting an exemption for the time being.

“I think that they’ll probably punt it to study. I think we’re going to have to make the case,” Robertson added.

The two leaders will also likely discuss Keystone XL, the ill-fated cross-border pipeline expansion that has become a lightning rod for political criticism from both sides of the aisle.

The meeting will start with only Trudeau and Biden one-on-one before the meeting expands to include the cabinets of both governments.

US Ambassador to Canada

      Comments Off on US Ambassador to Canada

One month after restoring regular order in their initial half-hour telephone call, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden will set the scope of that partnership on Tuesday. The two have shared priorities between them: managing COVID-19 and an economic recovery with a focus on growing the middle class, securing the resiliency of supply chains, bolstering defence and security, tackling the issues of climate and energy, and promoting diversity and inclusion.

But what’s missing from that list is the urgent need to name a new U.S. ambassador to Canada.

It has been 18 months since Kelly Knight Craft, Donald Trump’s ambassador to Canada, left for the United Nations; even when she was on the job, as a U.S. Senate inquiry revealed, she spent half of her 22-month Canadian assignment in the United States. Her nominated successor, Dr. Aldona Wos, had a Senate hearing, but she was never confirmed.

The U.S. ambassador matters because he or she holds the sole presidential appointment where the job is to think about Canada 24 hours a day. With their Canadian counterpart in Washington, they are the quarterbacks in the field: identifying and heading off potential problems, trouble-shooting many of them, usually without media attention, while providing advice and expertise to their respective governments.

The ambassador’s responsibilities cut across the various levels of government. Scarcely a week goes by without a conversation with a governor, a premier or a local official. It’s a reflection of the profound interconnectedness of our relationship. It is as much domestic in its scope as international.

While both countries rely on their professional foreign service to staff their embassies and consulates, the politics that inevitably goes with issues such as Mr. Biden’s recent scuttling of the Keystone XL pipeline means that Canada is better served when the U.S. ambassador has highly developed political instincts and the contacts that they can personally call on to fix things.

Recent U.S. ambassadors possessed these qualities and, just as importantly, developed an empathy for Canada. Michigan Democrat Jim Blanchard (Bill Clinton) and Massachusetts Republican Paul Cellucci (George W. Bush) served as governors; Mr. Blanchard had also previously served in Congress. David Wilkins (Mr. Bush) had previously been Speaker of the South Carolina legislature, while Gordon Giffin (Mr. Clinton), David Jacobson (Barack Obama) and Bruce Heyman (Mr. Obama) were lawyers for whom the politicking of fundraising, organizing and campaigning was their second profession. The politically connected Ms. Craft and her coal-magnate husband has donated millions to Republican campaign coffers.

The common denominator for these ambassadors was their personal relationship with their president. Their ability to pick up the phone and get through to the president or his chief of staff is what Canada wants in a U.S. ambassador.

When the U.S. ambassador weighs in, things get done: the Open Skies agreement, Smart Border, pre-clearance at airports and rail stations. As important is what they head off or quietly resolve – everything from ballast-water brouhahas to brawls over bridges. Even if Ms. Craft kept a low profile, she worked effectively with former Canadian ambassador David MacNaughton in keeping NAFTA renegotiations on track. Inevitably, they all became experts on the border.

They also quickly learn that the alternate power in Canada is not just the parliamentary opposition but the premiers, whose constitutional responsibilities give them weight and influence especially on resources, immigration and trade.

Working with the premiers will be a priority for the next ambassador. In the 25th call between the Prime Minister and the premiers on COVID-19, Alberta’s Jason Kenney said rescinding the Keystone XL permit was a “gut punch” and an “insult.” In calling for retaliatory action, he got the backing of Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, Ontario’s Doug Ford (who also raised the issue of Mr. Biden’s “Buy America” executive order) and Quebec’s François Legault.

Mr. Trudeau should encourage the President to name his new ambassador as quickly as possible. Given rigorous scrutiny – financial, political and character – and then the Senate process of a hearing and votes, it will likely be months before anyone moves into the splendid U.S. residence called Lornado.

The ambassador’s to-do list is falling in place. Our leaders prioritized combatting COVID-19, strengthening economic and defence ties, and addressing climate change. We need a shared approach to industrial policy.

Each item comes with a subset of issues: vaccine and PPE distribution; more resilient supply chains; the new North Warning System for air defence and the Arctic; a carbon border-adjustment tax. There are the perennial concerns: “Buy America,” softwood lumber, our pipelines. Then there are the global issues on the table at this year’s G7, G20 and climate summits: China, climate, reform of the rules-based order and reinvigoration of the democracies.

The next U.S. ambassador will not solve our problems. But he or she will be a key player and vital interlocutor in managing our most important and complex relationship.

Canadian Foreign Policy

      Comments Off on Canadian Foreign Policy

Canada’s ‘undeclared’ foreign policy needs more focus: former diplomat

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once confidently declared that Canada’s back on the international stage. Five years later, though, some wonder where the country is exactly.

That is the assessment of foreign policy analysts like Bessma Momani, who says Canada’s foreign policy “is a bit undeclared.”

“People know us as a welcoming country, a tolerant country … so I think the foreign policy is viewed as generally tolerant, if not passive,” Momani, a professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, said in an interview with Global News.

But is passive what Canada is going for?

The Trudeau government has proudly promoted its feminist foreign policy to “advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls,” according to a government of Canada website.

READ MORE: Canada’s foreign aid to Afghanistan had some success but many failures, internal review says

There is also an emphasis on female entrepreneurs. In his last foreign trip before the COVID-19 pandemic, Trudeau told an audience in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that when women and girls have access to education, they lift up the communities.

“But all too often, they’re still missing out on those opportunities. Moving forward together towards greater prosperity means ensuring that no one gets left behind,” Trudeau said in February 2020.

While many believe it’s a worthy endeavour, there is concern the Trudeau government isn’t putting its money where its mouth is.

Canada’s international aid budget is only about $6 billion a year, which equalled 0.27 per cent of the country’s gross domestic income (GDI) in 2019. The OECD target for official development assistance (ODA) is 0.7 per cent of donors’ national income.

That subpar level of spending is why Momani is concerned about the direction Canada has chosen.

The West Block: Foreign affairs minister opens up about international diplomacy during a global pandemic

The West Block: Foreign affairs minister opens up about international diplomacy during a global pandemic – Dec 20, 2020

“If you’re looking for a policy that you can achieve your goals with very little financial resources to it, that (feminist foreign policy) is not one that you should put your money into because it is an expensive endeavour and you’re going to face a lot of global resistance to it,” Momani told Global News.


The June 2019 loss of the United Nations Security Council seat vote was widely seen as a blow to Canada’s brand, according to Randolph Mank, who served as Canadian ambassador to Indonesia and the Canadian high commissioner in both Pakistan and Malaysia

Significant resources were spent on lobbying other nations for their votes, and now some believe Canada must refocus its attention on another cause.

Mank led Canada’s last major foreign policy review in 2003 and he thinks it might be time for another one.

COMMENTARY: Canada needs a foreign policy review

“We’ve got the ability to make declarations, but we really need is the ability to pursue our interests. And to do that, you have to define them first of all,” Mank told Global News in a recent interview.

In their 2019 election campaign platform, the Liberals promised to establish the Canadian Centre for Peace, Order and Good Government, something that seems to fit with our country’s past strengths, according to another foreign diplomat.

“I would point to participation in the group that’s trying to bring democracy to Venezuela, but that’s going to be a long, hard slog. And our efforts through the Ottawa Group to reform the World Trade Organization, to bring the United States back into it,” Colin Robertson, who has served as the Canadian consul general in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and New York, told Global News in an interview.


Robertson’s advice would be for Canada to focus on climate change, democracy and the digital economy. Similar priorities have been announced by U.S. President Joe Biden.

READ MORE: Biden to face difficulties in U.S. foreign policy after Trump’s presidency

“A lot of the success of Canadian foreign policy is aligning ourselves to where U.S. presidents are going and then being helpful because the U.S. is still the leader of the free world,” Robertson said.

With the country still battling the COVID-19 pandemic and setting a course for an economic recovery, the government is likely unwilling to devote resources to a reset on foreign policy. That review might also have to wait until after the next election of a majority government so the department has the confidence it won’t be forced to change direction if there’s a change in government.

George Shultz

      Comments Off on George Shultz

from POLICY: Canadian Politics and Public Policy

Colin Robertson  February 8, 2021

This was not the way I had wanted to meet the venerable George P. Shultz. Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour, Shultz had served four presidents: secretary of state to Ronald Reagan, Treasury secretary to Gerald Ford, labor secretary to Richard Nixon and on the Council of Economic Advisors under Dwight Eisenhower. A graduate of Princeton – its tiger mascot was allegedly tattooed on his formidable posterior – he’d joined the Marine Corps and seen combat in the Pacific.

My July 23, 2003 call on former Secretary Shultz in his conference room at the Hoover Institution on the Stanford University campus was a fine example of the delicacy of diplomacy. It was prompted by his remark “So my Canadian friends, why has Canada gone so soft?” — provoked by our refusal to participate in the invasion of Iraq. As Consul General for Canada in California, it was my responsibility to explain the Canadian position.

George Shultz, who died Sunday at the age of 100, mattered to us. He had played a lead role in getting Canada into the G7 in 1976 when he was at Treasury. He would later tell me it was both strategic and personal: the US wanted another non-European member and he liked his Canadian counterpart, then Finance Minister John Turner. As secretary of state, he instituted quarterly meetings with his Canadian counterpart: first, Allan MacEachen, whom he had taught economics at MIT; and then Joe Clark. Allan Gotlieb, our longest serving ambassador in Washington, used to have Shultz and his late first wife, Obie, over to the residence where they talked high policy while watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies. Shultz was a vital ally in our campaigns for free trade and the acid rain agreement. While George W. Bush was in the White House, Shultz was still a player with influence on key members of the administration, notably Condi Rice, who was national security advisor and later took on his former role of secretary of state.

So, in California, I awaited the great man, surrounded by the pictures and mementos of a long public life. A picture with Senator Ted Kennedy, the “Lion of the Senate” inscribed, “George, A tiger who burned bright in the eyes of Congress and the world.” A sword presented to him by the Commandant of the Marines. “Semper Fidelis” — words that Shultz lived by. The only Canadian in the collection of presidents, prime ministers and foreign leaders was Brian Mulroney. If the intent was to intimidate, it succeeded.

And then the door opened and in trudged George Shultz, looking comfortable in a short-sleeved shirt and khaki trousers. He nodded and took his place at the head of the table, gestured for me to come closer, looked at me for a moment, and then in the measured tone that personified his diplomatic style said: “You asked to see me?”

I made my case, saying that nothing is more consequential that taking a country to war, noting that for Canada the First World War began in 1914, three years before the US joined in and the Second World War in 1939, two years before Pearl Harbour. I also noted that, unlike his father, George H. W. Bush, who had followed Brian Mulroney’s advice and secured a UN mandate for the first Gulf War, George W. Bush was leading a “coalition of the willing”.  For us, the multilateral endorsement was essential.

My July 23, 2003 call on former Secretary Shultz was a fine example of the delicacy of diplomacy. It was prompted by his remark ‘So my Canadian friends, why has Canada gone so soft?’, provoked by our refusal to participate in the invasion of Iraq.

Shultz responded with one of his favourite maxims: “Good neighbours tend their gardens — they weed them and keep them in good order and don’t let them cause harm to that of their neighbour.” Is Canada ‘tending its garden?’ I responded that the ongoing Canada-bashing, especially from the Fox Network, saying that Canada was ‘weak on terrorism’ was not based on facts. He nodded, although I am not sure it was in agreement. I asked if I could see him again and he nodded again.

He meant it, and during my time in California he was an invaluable source of advice on politics and international affairs.

Mr. Shultz and his second wife, Charlotte, would come to our events and they graciously hosted a brunch for then Foreign Minister Bill Graham and his wife Cathy, at their splendid apartment atop Nob Hill.

While Shultz is being memorialized as a traditionalist — one who balked at the hair-brained Iran-Contra scheme and was viewed as the voice of reason in the Reagan cabinet — he also thought outside the box. In a conversation on California’s water shortage, he asked me if we would consider shipping water through our gas pipelines, telling me that when he was at Bechtel, they’d determined that the water they’d bring down from Canada would return through the atmosphere. I told him that water was a sovereignty issue for Canadians and that bulk water exports were explicitly rejected in legislation.

More recently, we would meet at the annual sessions of the North American Forum that he established with former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed and former Mexican Finance Minister Pedro Aspe to promote closer North American collaboration. He would use the occasions to press on his other preoccupations: the threat of nuclear proliferation, the need for a global migration strategy and the urgency of mitigating climate change.

He titled his memoir Turmoil and Triumph: Diplomacy, Power and the Victory of the American Deal (1993). It was the basis for a documentary series in 2010. He wrote or contributed to many books. My favourites are Learning from Experience, (2016) vignettes illustrating his wisdom, and Thinking about the Future (2019) that spans major policy challenges including technology, terrorism, drugs and climate change. A consistent theme in his work is ts that the United States has a vital stake in promoting democratic values and institutions, something that Joe Biden is determined to revive.

I learned many things over the years from George Shultz, especially about the importance of trust — a theme he returned to on his 100th birthday, when he published The 10 most important things I’ve learned about trust over my 100 years, in the Washington Post. For Shultz, successful diplomacy depends on trust, empathy, a knowledge of history and cultures, and ideas. “You always start with ideas” he would remind us time and again. “And if you don’t start with ideas, you’ll get lost.”

George Shultz was a good friend to Canada, and a champion of the North American idea. When I think of George Shultz, I think of the words from Ecclesiasticus 44:7, etched into the National War Memorial arch on Ottawa’s Wellington Street: “All these were honoured in their generations and were the glory of their times.”

Buy America

      Comments Off on Buy America
  • Now Showing

    Trudeau should lead with shared interests in Biden agenda: Former…

  • Up Next

    Biden’s presidency will test the limits of America’s friendship w…

  • 9:09

    It’s high-time Canada looks after Canada: Goldy Hyder on possible…

Canadian companies that bid on American government contracts could be cut out of the procurement process if Joe Biden follows through on his Buy American plan after he becomes U.S. president today, according to business and trade experts.

Manufacturers and exporters in Canada supply a vast range of equipment to public works projects in the U.S. from school buildings to wastewater treatment facilities.

But Biden’s promise to prioritize U.S.-based suppliers and products made on American soil could hurt Canadian companies by blocking them from bidding for work, especially after he unveils an infrastructure plan next month.

The Made-in-America endeavour could disrupt the Canada-U.S. supply chain and lead to significant trade tensions, experts say.

Yet the hardest hit firms will be those directly involved in U.S. government contracts, they say.

“If you’re in the business of supplying government procurement projects like municipal infrastructure, those are the companies most at risk,” said Dennis Darby, president and CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.

Stricter Buy American rules for federal procurement could hurt manufacturing on both sides of the border, he said.

“Manufacturers are so integrated across North America,” Darby said, noting that a lot of what Canadian companies make are the “bits and pieces” that go into the continental supply chain.

“When U.S. manufacturers do well, so do Canadian manufacturers. We’re all part of the same supply chain.”

The biggest losers in an era of greater U.S. protectionism are likely to be a broad cross-section of Canadian firms supplying products to American municipalities, rather than specific sectors, experts say.

Companies that supply pumping equipment for municipal water facilities, pipes for new sewage lines, or play structures for new playgrounds could all suffer, they say.

Meanwhile, both Canada the U.S. already have “buy national” provisions carved out of existing trade agreements. Military procurements, for example, exclude foreign suppliers.

Donald Trump pursued his own Buy American policies but it’s unclear how much further Biden can expand these provisions without facing a legal challenge, said trade expert Lawrence Herman.

“The question will be whether the expansion of the Buy American provision is permissible within the scope of the (World Trade Organization) agreement,” said Herman, international trade lawyer at Herman and Associates.

Yet the impact of the Buy American agenda on Canadian businesses could be widespread, he said.

“There are a lot of Canadian companies that supply products to American municipalities,” Herman said. “They could all be affected.”

Colin Robertson, one of the negotiators of the original Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and North American Free Trade Agreement, said Canada should come to the table with solutions.

“If Biden goes through with this, you’re going to hear from Canadian companies that feel they’re being excluded from U.S. projects,” said Robertson, vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“You’re almost better to deal with it on a one-by-one basis,” said the former Canadian diplomat. “If the guy who builds playsets in Ontario can’t bid on a new playground, what you want to do is try and get the province and state to work something out.”

If Biden’s massive stimulus package is approved, the demand for construction materials – especially steel and aluminum – could be huge, Robertson said.

But if the Buy American plan is ramped up and starts to affect materials from Canada, he said negotiators need to point out that ultimately they’ll get better value including materials produced in Canada.

“If you want maximum value for these dollars, it’s better to open up bidding,” Robertson said. “The challenge with these sorts of Buy American programs is you can get cartels forming within your locality that drive up prices.”


      Comments Off on Keystone

Varcoe: Canada mounts final plea for Keystone XL, as prospects dim for Alberta’s investment

Experts on both sides of the border point out the long-delayed pipeline faces mighty political obstacles

As Canada mounts an 11th-hour defence of the embattled Keystone XL pipeline, it faces an uphill battle — and legal experts caution Alberta faces long odds to recover its investment if the project is sidelined by the next U.S. president, Joe Biden.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke for a half-hour Tuesday afternoon with Premier Jason Kenney as both the federal and provincial governments continue to reach out to the incoming United States administration to promote the cross-border oil pipeline.Biden is widely expected to revoke the necessary presidential permits for the under-construction energy development as early as Wednesday, his first day in office, over climate concerns surrounding the oilsands.

Speaking Tuesday to reporters, Trudeau said he’s spoken this week with Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Kirsten Hillman, about the issue, and Ottawa is making sure Canada’s views are heard at the highest levels.

“Our officials in Washington have continued to make the case for Keystone XL. We understand, of course, that it’s a commitment that the (incoming) administration made many months ago — or the candidate Joe Biden made — to cancel this pipeline,” said Trudeau.

James Rajotte, Alberta’s senior representative to the United States, has also been busy on the matter in Washington “exhausting all options,” according to the province.

However, the hard reality is the decision appears to have been made, although lobbying continues.

Experts on both sides of the border point out the long-delayed pipeline faces mighty political obstacles, including a promise by Biden last May to revoke permits that Donald Trump had previously issued for TC Energy’s pipeline.

Politics has long surrounded this project. Diplomatic discussions between the two countries over Keystone XL also have a long and prickly history.

In 2011, then-prime minister Stephen Harper called Keystone XL a “no-brainer” for U.S. approval. Yet, then-president Barack Obama rejected it four years later.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat to the United States, said Keystone XL has attained “mythical” status among opponents who want to defeat the project and stymie oilsands growth.

While Canada continues to push for Keystone XL, other bilateral issues are at play that Trudeau needs to make progress on with the new administration, including working together on the global pandemic.

“I just don’t see a silver bullet” for Keystone XL, said Robertson, who is vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“It is never over until it’s over but it may be, in the short term, a rebuff if the permit is rescinded.”


Both the federal and provincial governments have been trying to promote the project’s ability to create jobs and strengthen North American energy security. They also emphasize the progress being made by oilsands producers to lower their emissions per barrel.

During Kenney’s conversation with the prime minister on Tuesday, he urged the federal government to convey to the U.S. that “rescinding the Keystone XL border crossing permit would damage the Canada-U.S. bilateral relationship,” according to a statement from the premier’s office.

For Alberta’s oilpatch, the issue has also attracted an intense focus, reflecting the decade-long odyssey to improve market access and ship more Canadian heavy crude by pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast refining hub.

The project would generate billions of dollars in royalties and taxes for the provincial government.

That’s part of the reason the Kenney government agreed last spring to take on the political risk and make a $1.5-billion equity investment in Keystone XL, as well as extend $6 billion in loan guarantees that began this year.

About $1 billion of taxpayer money would be exposed if the project is blocked, Kenney told reporters Monday. He reiterated Alberta would have “very strong arguments for legal recourse for damages incurred” if the existing permit is vetoed retroactively.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content continued

However, legal experts aren’t quite so certain. In short, it doesn’t look promising.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks in Calgary on March 31, 2020 about the the plan to kick-start construction on the Keystone XL pipeline. PHOTO BY JIM WELLS/POSTMEDIA/FILE

TC Energy could file a lawsuit in the United States federal court or make a claim under the old NAFTA agreement. The Calgary-based pipeline giant made such a claim after the 2015 rejection by Obama, seeking US$15 billion in damages. (The case was dropped after Trump backed the development upon his election.)

The United States has never lost such a case and paid out damages, noted James Coleman, an expert in pipeline law and a professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Winning such a battle wouldn’t get the pipeline built, either.

“Suing your way to successful construction against a hostile government, no one would suggest that’s anything but a long shot, even if your arguments are good,” he said.

Alberta could try to recover some of its investment in a separate lawsuit, but it would also face challenges.

“It is long odds, to put it mildly,” said trade lawyer Mark Warner with MAAW Law in Toronto.

“Whether it’s through the U.S. courts or through NAFTA, it would be very long and very contentious and hard to win, but not impossible.”

The 2019 presidential permit for Keystone XL signed by Trump plainly states it can be terminated, revoked or amended at any time at the sole discretion of the U.S. president.

These factors don’t add up to an ironclad case to recover taxpayer money, although Alberta needs to consider all of its alternatives.

“I would say the chances are not good. But given how much public money was put into this, I think there’s a responsibility to seek any compensation you can get, in any way you can,” said University of Calgary law professor Kristen van de Biezenbos.

There will be plenty of time to focus on recouping Alberta’s lost investment if the project is derailed this week.

At this point, Keystone XL still remains a live issue for the federal and provincial governments — at least for now.

Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.

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.