His predecessor tweeted insults and made menacing threats against America’s allies but US President Joe Biden proved just as formidable for Canada with a stroke of pen.
In his first few hours in office Wednesday, Biden made Canada the first foreign casualty of his campaign promises and revoked the construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline that would have taken Canadian oil into the American market.
Biden has said for months that as part of his climate agenda, he would cancel the project. But the decisive speed of his executive order gave Canada no right of reply.
Even Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who backs the Keystone XL pipeline, tweeted that the executive order amounted to a slap in the face for Canada.
“This is a realpolitik moment, it’s a reality check that America always looks after American interests and it’s high time we do the same in Canada,” said Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, in an interview with CNN.
Biden’s actions are an opening salvo for America’s allies; a clear indication that although the new President is committed to restoring old relationships, a shrewd, calculated self-interest, rooted in the domestic political agenda, will define his foreign policy.
Biden called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Friday in his first call to a foreign leader.
A government source who was briefed on the call described it as “warm and friendly” and substantive. Both leaders agreed that fighting the pandemic will be their top priority.
In private, both men repeated the comments they have made about the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. Trudeau was said to have told Biden that he was disappointed and that it would cost jobs on both sides of the border.
Biden said that he was making good on a campaign promise.
“We’re relieved that tariffs are not being announced by tweets, but I think that outside of those things changing, the fact is American politics as such has not changed that much,” said Hyder.
During the phone call with Trudeau, Biden underscored his commitment to multilateralism.
A readout of the call released by Trudeau’s office Friday night reads, “The leaders reiterated their firm commitment to multilateral institutions and alliances.”
The readout also stated that “the Prime Minister and President agreed to consult closely to avoid measures that may constrain bilateral trade, supply chains, and economic growth.”
But earlier Friday, Trudeau was more plainspoken and realistic about Biden’s approach, especially when it comes to trade.
“It’s not always going to be perfect alignment with the United States, that’s the case with any given president but in a situation where we are much more aligned on values, on focus, on work that needs to be done to give opportunities for everyone while we build a better future, I’m very much looking forward to working with President Biden,” said Trudeau during a press conference Friday.
‘Buy American’ approach may test relations with allies
But those “values” will be tested again next week as the Biden administration outlines its priorities for a “Buy American” approach to the economy, an approach that some in Canada believe will lead to more trade protectionism.
“Buy American is going to be the next big test,” said Hyder, adding that it will pose a challenge for Canada as well as other allies.
“What’s good for America is strong trading relationships, energy security, reliable partners and allies that can be there for you, right? That’s what we need to make the case for,” Hyder said.
But making that case in the hyperpartisan atmosphere of Washington will be more complicated as the US tries to recover from a debilitating pandemic.
Before and after getting elected, Biden promised to tighten “Buy American” rules. This is another campaign promise that could yet again sideswipe Canada and swing at other allies too.
Biden has proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in spending for things like infrastructure projects that would be fulfilled using principally American raw materials and products.
The “Buy American” campaign could yet receive the legislative backing its needs to make it enforceable. That, in turn, could make it indistinguishable from an “America First” doctrine.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed Biden’s inauguration Wednesday by declaring in a speech that “after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House.”
But at a press briefing this week, European Council President Charles Michel seemed to take a more pragmatic approach.
“We have our differences and they will not magically disappear. America seems to have changed, and how it’s perceived in Europe and the rest of the world has also changed,” Michel said, adding that Europe would defend its interests.
Canada will likely be the first ally to strenuously defend its interests, no matter how warm the relationship between Trudeau and Biden.