While the aftermath of the American presidential election continues to unfold, it remains to be seen how exactly the shift of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden will impact Canada-U.S. relations.
A former international ambassador cautions it won’t be all sunshine and lollipops ahead for the generally friendly neighbours.
Derek Burney, who was born in Fort William (now Thunder Bay) served as Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. from 1989 to 1993 under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
Burney is currently chancellor of Lakehead University, chairman of the Burney Investment Group, chairman of GardaWorld’s International Advisory Board, chairman of Enablence Technologies Inc., and a member of the advisory board of Paradigm Capital.
He was named an Officer to the Order of Canada in 1993.
Last week he gave an online address which was hosted by the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, and simulcast by the chambers of Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Timmins.
Burney opened by calling the U.S. election a “cathartic” event.
“The aftershocks continue to resonate. The Electoral College will meet on Dec. 14 to certify the results, and formally declare Joe Biden as president.”
He then spoke of the big takeaways he had from the election.
“A huge turnout amplified by massive influxes of mail-in ballots helped ultimately tip the verdict to Joe Biden, even though Trump won 10 million more votes than he received in 2016.”
Burney said the 'Blue Wave' that many pollsters had predicted did not materialize.
“Too many pollsters seemed more inclined to affect, rather than reflect, the mood of American voters. Biden won with a tightly disciplined, low-key campaign, banking on the fact that he was not Trump, and that the election would be a referendum on Trump, not a choice between the two candidates.”
Burney lamented that foreign policy was barely mentioned by either candidate throughout the campaign.
“Personalities, character and COVID concerns dominated.”
Burney pointed out that regardless of the outcome the United States is in a period of deep division.
“The country remains highly polarized — split right down the middle and very difficult to govern. The Democrats are jubilant, but weary. The Republicans are subdued, but not submissive.”
He said the election conveyed a messy image of American democracy to the world, and that it regrettably emboldened authoritarian leaders like China's President Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to take advantage.
Domestically, policy ideas from the Republicans and Democrats on matters such as taxes, immigration, health care and energy are seemingly polar opposites.
“Biden will definitely bring a less abrasive tone, especially on global issues, but his ability to implement major changes on domestic issues will be circumscribed, if the Republicans hold the Senate. He will also need to consolidate consensus on policies and priorities first within his own party, which is more divided internally, than are the Republicans.”
“Biden's pledge to heal and unite the nation is commendable, but maybe unrealistic.”
On the positive side, Burney did remark that there was some scope for bipartisan consensus on issues like justice reform, infrastructure, and possibly healthcare.
“But if the Congress remains divided, agreements will require nimble give-and-take negotiations. At least Biden and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell are both Senate veterans, and they begin with a degree of mutual respect, a spirit that was entirely lacking between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”
Regarding Canada and how a new government will affect Canadian business, Burney, said Biden will be more congenial with U.S. allies.
“After 47 years of service in Washington, he is no stranger to Canada, nor to our Prime Minister and other alliance leaders. That alone is good news.”
However, Burney said that in reality, the Canada-U.S. relationship is “no longer special” and that Biden’s domestic policies are a mixed bag for Canada moving forward.
“Those favouring more action on climate change will be pleased by his quick decision to rejoin the Paris Accord. I personally would be happier if he were also committed to ensuring more timely, and more tangible commitments by major polluters like China and India. The imbalance is startling.”
He also cautioned that Western Canada could be in for more challenging times concerning the oil and gas sector if Biden’s positions come to fruition.
“If he fulfils his pledge to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit, that would be devastating for our energy sector. In my view, such action would be blatantly discriminatory and should be challenged forcefully by our government, not just the pipeline companies.”
The first few months of 2021 will be highly interesting for economic observers on both sides of the border as the two nations, the largest trading partners on the planet, scramble to get their economies rolling again during a global health crisis.
“Because we are joined at the hip economically with the U.S., we stand to gain when their economy is robust, and conversely when the U.S. economy slumps, so does ours. That is why my fervid hope is that Joe Biden puts economy recovery first and foremost on his agenda.”
Burney told the business-oriented viewers what his overall message is.
“At a time of greater instability and uncertainty in the world, my most important message to you is that greater self-reliance is becoming the order of the day. As business operators, you need to be mindful of that increasing trend. Find ways to produce more of what is needed right here in Canada, and rely less on global supply chains that can easily be disrupted, as our experience with COVID, badly demonstrated.”
Andrew Autio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Press