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EDITORIAL: Biden takes charge with change in tone, direction

U.S. President Joe Biden called for a return to civility in his inaugural address on Wednesday. - Reuters

As omens go, it seemed auspicious.

As Joe Biden stood to recite the presidential oath of office on the balcony of the U.S. Capitol in Washington Wednesday, sunshine suddenly broke through what had been an overcast day with occasional flurries.

At just before 1 p.m. Atlantic, and only two weeks after insurrectionists egged on by former U.S. president Donald Trump invaded that same building in a failed attempt to stop Congressional certification of November’s election results, Biden became the country’s 46th president and Kamala Harris its first Black, South Asian, female vice-president.

The symbolism was clear to Americans weary after four years of divisiveness, as well as America’s friends worldwide — Trump’s stormy presidency was over and Biden, touting unity and global re-engagement, represented a sunnier future.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump, rendered tweetless since his shameful incitement of extremist mobs on Jan. 6 that left five people dead, left office in typical disruptive style, eschewing tradition and skipping his successor’s inauguration, the first to do so in 150 years. He and wife Melania flew to Florida.

Before he left, Trump granted more than 140 pardons and commutations, many deemed deserved by experts, but a few, such as for former White House aide Steve Bannon, clearly controversial. But Trump did not, as some feared, give himself or his family pardons, leaving open the possibility of future legal liability for his actions.

Thankfully, despite threats of violence from disgruntled Trump supporters who still believe his unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, the inauguration — under heavy, tight security — was without serious incident.

For Canada, Biden represents a return to a more predictable relationship, although not one without challenges.

On the positive side, Biden is committed to rejoining the Paris climate accord and embracing green energy development. He has spoken about repairing alliances and the importance of close allies such as Canada. He was an early NAFTA supporter and is less likely than Trump to use unilateral trade weapons such as tariffs against Canadian industries.

But Biden has also voiced a made-in-America philosophy, which could — depending on details — impact Canada. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s embrace of the Keystone XL pipeline, politically problematic in this country, will be an immediate bilateral challenge as Biden says he will cancel the project.

In his inaugural address, the new president staked out his policy priorities: Fighting the pandemic, racial justice, climate change and rejecting extremism.

And unity.

Biden called on Americans, despite political differences, to unite in rejecting untruths and defending their “fragile” democracy from the forces of extremism.

“We must end this uncivil war,” he said.

In a journey of a thousand steps, Biden has taken a big first stride.

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