NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023

Joe Biden heads to Ottawa: He and Canada’s Justin Trudeau have much to talk about

When then-Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden last vis­it­ed Ottawa, in 2016 as part of a vale­dic­to­ry trip, he was fet­ed at an elab­o­rate din­ner and effused that the Unit­ed States and Cana­da were “bet­ter posi­tioned than any time since the end of World War II” to pro­mote democ­ra­cy around the world.

Pres­i­dent Biden returns to Canada’s cap­i­tal on Thurs­day to a very dif­fer­ent world.

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has shut down economies. Russia’s auto­crat­ic ruler, Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, has launched a mil­i­tary inva­sion of Ukraine.

An emerg­ing super­pow­er, Chi­na, is men­ac­ing its neigh­bors and send­ing recon­nais­sance bal­loons over North America.

Refugees are flee­ing a once-demo­c­ra­t­ic Venezuela.

Haiti is in anarchy.

Biden and Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau will have much to talk about.

Both have backed Ukraine’s resis­tance against Vlad the Invad­er. But the Unit­ed States is press­ing Cana­da to increase mil­i­tary spend­ing in sup­port of NORAD (the North Amer­i­can Air Defense Command).

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Cana­di­an Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau (Offi­cial Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment photo)

“I think Cana­da and the Unit­ed States agree on the need for enhanced spend­ing in the defense space,” David Cohen, U.S. Ambas­sador to Cana­da, told CBC in a pre-sum­mit interview.

It is tra­di­tion for a new U.S. pres­i­dent to make his first for­eign vis­it to the Great White North. Due to COVID, how­ev­er, the get togeth­er in Feb­ru­ary of 2021 took place by video con­fer­ence. The vis­its are a form of recog­ni­tion val­ued by Cana­da. The two coun­tries share 4,000-plus miles of the world’s longest peace­time border.

The Biden trip fol­lows years of acri­mo­ny with Trump in office.

Just before a 2018 G7 con­fer­ence in Charlevoix, Que­bec, Biden’s pre­de­ces­sor slapped a twen­ty-five per­cent tar­iff on Cana­di­an steel plus a ten per­cent tar­iff on alu­minum, part of his “Amer­i­ca First” trade policy.

Trudeau described the tar­iffs as “insult­ing” but empha­sized con­tin­ued col­le­gial­i­ty with the U.S. Trump blew up on the flight back to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and described the Cana­di­an prime min­is­ter as “so meek and mild” as well as “very dis­hon­est and weak.”

The insults out of right field have continued.

When a “Free­dom Con­voy” of truck­ers occu­pied down­town Ottawa in Feb­ru­ary of 2022, protest­ing vac­cine require­ments, Trump described Trudeau as a “far left lunatic who has destroyed Cana­da with insane COVID man­dates.” FNC pun­dits have show­ered the prime min­is­ter with abuse then and since.

The Biden admin­is­tra­tion has moved to heal relations.

After the 2021 video con­fer­ence, the pres­i­dent told reporters: “Cana­da and the Unit­ed States are going to work in lock­step to dis­play the seri­ous­ness of our com­mit­ments both home and abroad.”

Ambas­sador Cohen, play­ing Sher­pa for the approach­ing sum­mit, told CBC: “He (Biden) likes Cana­da, he cares about Cana­da, and the Unit­ed States cares about Cana­da.” To which Kirsten Hill­man, Canada’s ambas­sador in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., respond­ed, “We’re sources of strength for each other.”

(Hill­man works out of Canada’s embassy on Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue, a strik­ing build­ing designed by Van­cou­ver archi­tect Arthur Erick­son, with a sculp­ture, “The Spir­it of Hai­da Gwaii, the Black Canoe,” by British Colum­bia Hai­da artist Bill Reid. Then-Prime Min­is­ter Bri­an Mul­roney remarked, in a 1988 vis­it, that the ambassador’s digs were far more hand­some than the PM’s office in Ottawa.)

What else is on the table? The two lead­ers are expect­ed to talk about the depth to which they should inter­vene in Haiti, and what to do about gangs run­ning ram­pant. Biden and Trudeau are both com­mit­ted to action on climate.

They are expect­ed to dis­cuss crit­i­cal min­er­als need­ed for car bat­ter­ies and semi-con­duc­tors. Cana­da is edgy about our Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act, and what role it is to play in the U.S. com­mit­ment to clean ener­gy development.

The Biden deci­sion to kill the Key­stone XL pipeline stirred ran­cor in Canada’s ener­gy indus­try. The pipeline was designed to trans­port Alber­ta tar sands oil, run­ning south through “the States” to export ter­mi­nals on the Gulf Coast.

Chi­na spy­ing is sure to come up, because the recon­nais­sance bal­loon trav­eled over Cana­da on its jour­ney from Alas­ka to the U.S. Trudeau is fac­ing a mini scan­dal over alle­ga­tions of a clum­sy Chi­nese inter­ven­tion in Canada’s 2021 elec­tion, sup­pos­ed­ly sup­port­ing a can­di­date of his gov­ern­ing Lib­er­al Party.

Curi­ous­ly, trans-bound­ary issues gen­er­al­ly get a back seat. The big salmon fish­ery of South­east Alas­ka faces a poten­tial threat from mines along major rivers – the Unuk, Taku and Stikine – which orig­i­nate upstream in British Columbia.

The Colville Indi­ans and con­ser­va­tion groups wor­ry about expan­sion of a big cop­per mine near Prince­ton, B.C., on the Sim­ilka­meen Riv­er, which flows south to join the Okanogan Riv­er in north cen­tral Washington.

Hav­ing entered office in 2015, Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau has wit­nessed the Oba­ma, Biden and Trump admin­is­tra­tions. His father, Prime Min­is­ter Pierre Elliott Trudeau, dealt – some­times con­tentious­ly — with the admin­is­tra­tions of Pres­i­dents Lyn­don John­son, Richard Nixon, Ger­ald Ford, Jim­my Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Biden will address Canada’s Par­lia­ment before fly­ing home. Vis­its take on the per­son­al­i­ties of pres­i­dents. A tree plant­ed on Par­lia­ment Hill by Richard Nixon, as a sym­bol of the coun­tries’ friend­ship, grew up crooked.

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