More than anything, everyone just seemed so relieved.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government faces plenty of challenges in its relations with U.S. President Joe Biden’s new Democratic administration: securing exemption from the Buy American procurement policies that could harm Canadian manufacturers; protecting Line 5, an Enbridge oil pipeline under threat of closing that could choke off oil flowing to Sarnia through Michigan.
The issue of continental air defence is about to go from back burner to front. And then there is the Canada-U.S. border. The United States has higher rates of infection, but also of vaccination. Whose citizens pose more of a threat? How do we get the border open again?
None of that matters as much as the pleasure – sheer joy, really; you could see it on their faces even with the masks – that the Canadians obviously felt at having relations back on an even keel, as the two leaders and their most senior advisers met virtually, Tuesday.
President Biden called out the Chinese government for its detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. “Human beings are not bartering chips,” he declared. “We’re going to work together, until we get their safe return.”
That’s a huge leap from the attitude of former president Donald Trump, who showed little interest in their confinement and who very much acted as though he considered the two Canadians bartering chips.
That said, Mr. Biden shares Mr. Trump’s conviction that China is a strategic competitor that must be contained. Mr. Trudeau has been more ambivalent. But the strong support within his own caucus for Monday’s declaration by the House of Commons that the Beijing government is committing genocide against the Uyghur people may force him to toughen his stand.
If things go well, Canada and the U.S. will rally non-aligned and allied nations to confront China on its human-rights record and persuade it to ease up on the worst of the abuses.
As I wrote in November, Mr. Biden places a high priority on modernizing NORAD. In his statement after the summit, he said, “we also agreed to modernize the North American Aerospace Defence Command.” Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. Mr. Trudeau spoke only of the need to “strengthen continental defence and combat violent extremism.”
Fact is, a fully modernized NORAD, which would also allow both countries to monitor Arctic warming, would cost tens of billions of dollars, and there is no money for it in the Canadian defence budget.
Expect the Americans to deploy the new technology almost entirely at their expense on Canadian soil, with Canadian permission, under the NORAD umbrella.
The most important news, though, is on the fight to reduce global warming. “Canada and the United States are going to work in lockstep to display the seriousness of our commitment at both home and abroad,” Mr. Biden promised. In a not-in-the-least-veiled dig at Mr. Trump, Mr. Trudeau spoke of his relief at being able to draw up a communiqué where “the Americans are not pulling out all references to climate change and instead adding them in.”
An integrated continental approach to combatting global warming is splendid news for Canada. Not only will it protect the environment, it will protect Canadian competitiveness and more deeply integrate the green technology supply chain. (Another reason to exempt Canada from Buy American.)
Trumpian withdrawalism was not all bad. On his watch, the U.S. withdrew from the World Health Organization and paralyzed the World Trade Organization. Both need reform. Canada has been working with like-minded nations to improve the workings of the WTO through what is known as the Ottawa Group. This could lead to real improvements and help smooth the way for American re-engagement.
Canadian commentators celebrate whenever a new American president makes Ottawa the first foreign trip (virtually in this case), and anguish whenever someone else gets chosen.
But it’s a geopolitical reality that, as the Biden administration sets out to repair the damage the Trump administration inflicted on the Western alliance and on America’s reputation, Canada is well positioned to contribute to those repairs, while protecting its own interests.
Anyway, it was good to hear the President and Prime Minister calling each other Justin and Joe. Canada and the United States were old friends before Donald Trump came along. It’s such a relief to have that friendship back.