The boys are (soon to be) back in town

3 minute read

President Joe Biden is finally heading to Ottawa. Even though it comes after years of delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the trip marks a return to a customary practice that sees newly-elected US presidents make a visit north early in their term. Although very few details of the visit have been released to the public, one thing is certain – there is no shortage of topics for Biden and Trudeau to discuss.  

From a Canadian perspective, the overarching goal of the visit will be to ensure President Biden — a vocal champion of quasi-protectionist, pro-labour domestic policy — sees America’s northern neighbour as a full partner in developing the economy of the future. Canada narrowly averted disaster when Biden’s electric-vehicle tax credits were amended to include North American manufacturers, rather than just US manufacturers, but the president still rarely misses a chance to tout his made-in-America ambitions for the US economy. 

The challenge comes primarily from measures in the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes uncapped tax credits intended to substantially increase investment to accelerate the transition to a green economy. The biggest issue facing Canada is the sheer size of the act’s incentives – incentives that the Canadian government admitted it simply cannot match. A senior federal finance department official went so far as to state that the incentives would amount to “a gravitational black hole”, drawing capital to the US at the expense of Canada and other countries.

Fears of American protectionism were compounded in early February when, in his State of the Union address, Biden promised a tougher Buy American regime. He stated to a joint session of the US Congress, that “for too long, past administrations have found ways to get around it.” MPs, who visited Washington recently, said they received assurances from both Republicans and Democrats that Biden was simply expressing rhetoric rather than outlining entrenched policy. Regardless, It is likely that the prime minister will be looking for concrete presidential guarantees when it comes to Canada’s place in the future of the American economy. 

Another pressing issue is the Safe Third Country Agreement, something that Trudeau has publicly stated needs to be revisited.  The agreement allows for anyone trying to cross the Canada-U.S. border in either direction to be sent back to the first of the two countries they arrived in. It has come under increased scrutiny as the number of refugees crossing into Canada from the US has increased. More than 39,000 refugees crossed into Canada from the US last year – the vast majority via Roxham Road, a rural path that crosses the border between New York state and Quebec. 

As Roxham Road is an unofficial border crossing, the Safe Third Country Agreement does not apply, so individuals cannot be returned to the US once detained by Canadian authorities. Quebec Premier Francois Legault made it clear that the province has reached its capacity to take in asylum-seekers. This prompted both the Quebec government and the federal official opposition to call on the prime minister to re-negotiate the deal to allow asylum seekers who use unofficial border crossings to be returned to the US.  

These two issues won’t be the only ones raised in the meeting between the two leaders. Continued support for Ukraine, possible interventions in Haiti, and countering China’s continued aggression will likely be discussed at length. Canada-US relations have warmed considerably under President Biden. This presidential visit provides a fantastic opportunity for this renewed spirit of collaboration to continue as Canada takes on some of the big issues.

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