Biden-Trudeau — A New Bromance?

3 minute read

After a long week in American politics and ballot counting now complete, leaders around the world have formally recognized Joe Biden as President-elect of the United States of America and Kamala Harris as the first female, bi-racial Vice-President-elect in American history. Prime Minister Trudeau and his government can now set their sights on building Canada-U.S. relations back better.

The relationship with the Trump administration has been fragile and at times tumultuous over the past few years. Being such an important ally to Canada, it begs the question, does having Biden in the top job mean that Canada can breathe a sigh of relief? 

Canada tried to stay under the radar during the Trump years, and the President only visited Canada once during his four-year tenure. On paper, the relationship with a Biden White House should be much less challenging than the previous one. And things are off to a good start. The Prime Minister was the first world leader to talk to President-Elect Biden early last week, and they discussed the importance of the unique Canada-U.S. partnership and continuing to fight the COVID-19 pandemic together. Other topics of importance for the two countries are fighting climate change, trade, softwood lumber, energy, and of course, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. 

Keystone XL will be tricky for Trudeau, both at home and across the border. Many industry pundits say that the election of Biden likely spells the end of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. When Biden was Vice-President during Obama’s administration the pipeline was delayed for years before being outright rejected in 2015. That decision was reversed when Donald Trump became Pre Trudeau strongly supported the reversal at the time and his position hasn’t changed. This means the Liberals are now in the difficult position of having to make the case to Biden that he needs to break his campaign promise on Keystone. To complicate matters further, doing so is going to require Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to find common ground and coordinate their efforts.

Climate change is at the top of theTrudeau government ‘s agenda and is being used as a lens for pandemic recovery efforts. To that end, they are poised to introduce climate accountability legislation as early as next week. This will formally commit Canada to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This legislation has been long-awaited and will set out mandatory national five-year targets to cut emissions, starting in 2025.

Climate change is also a priority for President-elect Biden. Under his leadership, the United States will rejoin the Paris agreement on climate change and will become the latest country to also commit to net-zero emissions by 2050. It would be symbolic of a renewed working relationship if both countries cut emissions in lock step with each other. Biden has also promised that climate change will be a major component of his foreign policy.

Domestically however, Biden’s power is more limited. As the Democratic candidate, the backbone of his climate change plan was a promise to spend $2 trillion over the next four years to reduce emissions and speed up his country’s transition to a clean economy. As good as that plan may sound, it would be highly unlikely for a Republican-controlled Senate (which is still TBC via George run-off votes in January) to sign off on the complete implementation of the Biden platform.

These are just two policy examples that are likely to spark debate between the two countries. Trade issues and the on-going border closure will also add pressure on the  relationship. The government and Canadians are breathing a collective sigh of relief, but it could be short lived. On January 20th when President-elect Biden becomes President Biden, the significance of the Trudeau/Biden relationship will come into focus and all eyes will be on how the two leaders can work together. Planned American action on climate change and energy decisions will increase pressure on Trudeau’s Liberal government to fulfil their own promises — and perhaps force them to move even faster to deliver.

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