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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 20, 2020
U.S. President Donald Trump is in serious political trouble. And if he doesn’t turn things around quickly, he’s going to be toast in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
That leaves us with presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, as the so-called leader of the free world. So, what would a Biden foreign policy look like? More specifically, how would his presidency impact Canada-U.S. relations?
On his campaign website, Biden talks about the United States charting a fundamentally different course for American foreign policy going forward. In particular, he highlights the need to restore U.S. moral leadership in the world by advancing human rights, terminating the Muslim travel ban (along with the separation of asylum-seeking families at the border) and emphasizing a commitment “to science and truth in government.”
In a recent article in the journal Foreign Affairs entitled, “Why America Must Lead Again,” Biden writes about the need “to salvage our reputation, rebuild confidence in our relationship, and mobilize our country and our allies to rapidly meet new challenges.” He then goes on to state plainly: “As president, I will take immediate steps to renew U.S. democracy and alliances, protect the United States’ economic future, and once more have America lead the world.”
Biden has promised to renew America’s core values, to make the U.S. a shiny example to the world and to work to revitalize democratic states around the world (including America). Indeed, he wants to place democracy back on the global radar screen and to host a global “Summit for Democracy.”
On the trade side, Biden argues for enhancing U.S. competitiveness, removing trade barriers in the world and shunning any thought of trade protectionism. He’s a firm believer in negotiated trade deals, effective diplomatic interventions and global trade rules and institutions.
With respect to China, he advocates working with like-minded U.S. allies “to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations.” While he is prepared to work with Beijing on confronting international challenges like health pandemics, nuclear non-proliferation and climate change, he is not afraid to get tough with China.
When it comes to the climate crisis, a Biden administration would embrace a leading role in combatting this existential threat. As he notes pointedly: “If we don’t get this right, nothing else will matter.” Consequently, he pledges to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement, to push clean energy sources and to promote net-zero emissions by 2050.
In terms of relations with Canada, Biden can only be an improvement as the bilateral relationship has reached its lowest point in several decades under Trumpism. The former Obama vice-president will be a breath of fresh air in Ottawa — no doubt received with a collective sigh of relief in both the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Global Affairs Canada.
I would expect things to be pretty uneventful (thankfully) with Biden and Justin Trudeau steadying the bilateral ship. For instance, we’re not likely to see any careless chatter from a U.S. president about sending troops to guard the Canada-U.S. border. In fact, there is the possibility that we could find ourselves neglected by a Biden administration that largely sees Canada as a loyal friend, trusted ally and problem-free neighbour.
To be sure, not everything under a Biden White House will be smooth sailing on the Canada-U.S. front. There will be ongoing issues about low defence spending in Canada, continued squabbling over softwood lumber exports and sharp differences over the Northwest Passage and Arctic sovereignty in general.
Perhaps the issue most likely to plague bilateral relations in the short term will be the seemingly never-ending dispute over the US$8 billion Keystone XL pipeline project. A Biden administration, like the former Obama administration, will likely move quickly to revoke the border-crossing permit for the oil pipeline out of concerns for climate change. That won’t please folks in Ottawa and it will surely leave Premier Jason Kenney and Albertans with smoke coming out of their ears.
Still, a Biden White House will be a good thing for the overall global community. Trade wars and tough talk about economic tariffs will be tamped down, multilateral institutions and military alliances will be viewed as assets and the U.S. will be far more engaged in international politics and world order under a Biden presidency. All of these things will, of course, be welcomed by Canada as well.
Indeed, Biden will set in motion a certain return to normalcy, if you will, in Canada-U.S. relations. By that I mean that the childish name-calling, derogatory tweeting and blustery threats of retaliation on the part of the U.S. government will end. Instead, he will signal a revival of a long-standing diplomatic culture between the two countries — that is, respectful dialogue, shared interests, “quiet diplomacy,” evidence-based exchanges and general cross-border collaboration. And, to be honest, it can’t come soon enough.
Peter McKenna is professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.