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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a press conference in Ottawa, on Nov. 9, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is confident U.S. president-elect Joe Biden will vigorously press China’s authoritarian rulers to free two jailed Canadians and challenge Beijing to re-evaluate its aggressive and repressive foreign policy.

Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have now marked 700 days in Chinese prison on allegations of espionage in what Ottawa regards as retaliation for Canada’s detention of a senior Huawei executive at the request of U.S. law enforcement.

Mr. Trudeau told a news conference Monday that the Trump administration worked closely with Canada to put pressure on Chinese President Xi Jinping to release the two Michaels and he expects Mr. Biden to follow the same policy.

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Mr. Trudeau said he is also certain the Biden foreign policy will challenge China’s “coercive diplomacy,” which he called “ineffective and extremely preoccupying” for democratic nations.

“I am extremely confident that the incoming American administration will continue to be a good partner to Canada and other nations around the world as we look to impress upon China that the approach they are taking is simply not working ... and impressing upon them the importance of returning the two Canadians who have been arbitrarily detained,” he said.

Justin Trudeau promised to continue standing up for Canadian industry in the face of potential U.S. protectionism from Joe Biden's administration. The Canadian Press

The Prime Minister would not be drawn into deploring President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede defeat, but he said he has confidence in the U.S. electoral system that declared Mr. Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris the winners of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

“My job is to make sure we work well with the current administration and we will work well with the incoming administration," he said. “It’s important to remind people of the strength of American democratic systems and institutions, designed to evaluate and analyze and tabulate election results.”

Mr. Trudeau said the Canadian government managed to renegotiate an updated continental free-trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico, despite Mr. Trump’s America-first economic policy, and to get Washington to reverse tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The Prime Minister said he will take the same approach to the incoming Democratic administration, which ran on protectionist policies such as Buy America. Protectionism hurts workers and companies on both sides of the border because supply chains are so closely integrated, he said.

“We have demonstrated an ability to stand up and defend Canadian interests throughout and we will do so as we move forward,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Creating or imposing barriers between Canada and the U.S. not only hurts Canada but also hurts workers and companies in the United States.”

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While there might be trade disputes with a Biden administration, Mr. Trudeau appeared to be upbeat about the president-elect’s commitment to fighting global warming, including his pledge to rejoin the Paris climate accord that President Trump left.

“It is a welcome sign that the new president-elect has indicated that climate change is a top priority,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau later said on Twitter that he spoke on the phone with Mr. Biden on issues such as climate change, COVID-19, anti-Black racism and China’s detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. “On these and other issues, president-elect [Mr. Biden] and I agreed to keep in touch and work closely together,” the Prime Minister said.

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who helped the Trudeau government make introductions to the Trump administration, said he won’t be needed this time around. Even though Mr. Biden is an old friend, Mr. Mulroney said the Prime Minister and incoming president know each other well from the Obama years.

Canada’s former ambassador to Washington, David MacNaughton, said that Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Biden bonded over a dinner they had together in Ottawa in 2016. As well, he said Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, has a close relationship with Jen O’Malley Dillon, who ran the Biden campaign.

However, Mr. MacNaughton said there will be challenging trade issues, noting Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is close to the U.S. dairy industry, while Democratic Senator Ron Wyden is a hawk on Canadian softwood lumber.

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“We shouldn’t assume all will be sweetness. [Biden] has some challenges in his own party quite apart from healing some of the divisions in the country,” Mr. MacNaughton said in an e-mail.

On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne vowed to press Mr. Biden to reverse his opposition to the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project.

Mr. Champagne said he will make the case to Mr. Biden that the US$11.5-billion pipeline, which would carry Alberta oil to U.S. Midwest refineries, offers the United States a reliable, secure source of energy from a supplier working to reduce its carbon footprint.

TC Energy Corp.’s 830,000 barrel-a-day project was approved by Canadian regulators in 2010 but blocked in 2015 by then-president Barack Obama. He heeded the advice of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and environmentalists, who said it would hasten climate change and encourage the use of fossil fuels.

Mr. Biden, who was vice-president under Mr. Obama, also opposes the 1,950-kilometre pipeline, and has said he will cancel the building permit issued by President Donald Trump in 2017.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who criticized Mr. Trump earlier this year for stopping the export of N95 masks to Canada, on Monday congratulated Mr. Biden and said he looks forward to working with anyone “who has the best interest of Canadians and Ontarians at heart.”

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“I love the people in the U.S., we’re very fortunate to have a great country beside us. I just want the people of Canada and Ontario to get the same respect from American leadership that we give,” Mr. Ford said.

“When they needed our help, we’re always there. So it was a real slap in the face when President Trump cut us off the [masks]. Again, I don’t care if you’re Republican, if you’re Democrat, we expect a good relationship and really focus on the economics.”

Mr. Ford added that Ontario is the United States' third largest trading partner. “I don’t expect any tariffs, any aluminum tariffs, and anything else. Let’s work together and it’s going to be beneficial for both sides of the border,” he said.

With a report from Laura Stone

Michael Kovrig has been in Chinese detention since December 2018, and has been even more cut-off from the outside world since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in China. His wife, Vina Nadjibulla, is spearheading efforts to have him released and returned home to Canada. The Globe and Mail

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