Ottawa welcomes president-elect Joe Biden as ally in climate fight

Lee Berthiaume
·4 min read

OTTAWA — Federal cabinet ministers are welcoming Joe Biden's election as the next U.S. president as an opportunity to advance the fight against climate change after four tumultuous years dealing with Donald Trump.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna were among those to specifically mention climate change as they welcomed Biden's victory over the weekend.

McKenna also appeared to take a veiled shot at the Trump administration as she noted Biden's promise to have the U.S. rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement after the country formally left the treaty last week.

"This is really sinking in," McKenna, who previously served as Canada's environment minister, wrote on Twitter. "It's been a long, tough slog these past four years internationally on climate action."

For his part, Wilkinson said Canada "stands ready and willing to work constructively with the U.S. to create good jobs for citizens on both sides of the border while taking strong action to address the climate crisis."

The Trudeau government's enthusiasm for Biden's climate-change policies are well-founded, experts said, and could even provide a boost to Canada's efforts as it seeks to move faster on the issue.

In the last four years, Canada has in some places slowed or amended its own environment policies to reflect concerns American companies facing fewer environmental regulations and taxes might hurt Canada's competitiveness.

But Blair Feltmate, who headed the Canadian government's expert panel on climate change adaptation, said Biden's election should serve as a "shot in the arm" for the Trudeau government's ambitions to build a greener economy.

That includes both adaptation in terms of working together on infrastructure as well as mitigation in terms of regulation and rolling out of greener technology and energy, all of which Biden has promised to tackle.

"What does the Biden presidency mean to Canada?" said Feltmate, who is head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo.

"I think it will underscore for Canada that the direction we've been heading in on the climate file is correct. But the speed at which we're deploying on the climate file has not been adequate."

Sara Hastings-Simon, whose many roles include serving as a member of the expert panel on clean growth for the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, agreed that Biden's presidency has put climate change on the "main stage."

"One of the things I think will change in the U.S., which will impact Canada, is that climate will be woven into economic policy and the stimulus across all dimensions," she said. "That really creates an urgency for Canada not to fall behind."

Yet Biden's election is also expected to pose a further challenge to Canada's oil and gas sector, starting with the president-elect having indicated he plans to cancel approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs on Sunday joined Alberta counterpart Jason Kenney in referencing Canadian energy exports to the U.S. as well as the ongoing softwood lumber dispute as he congratulated Biden on his win.

"We have an important trade relationship with the United States as a leading supplier of refined energy products," Higgs said in a statement.

"We also supply significant amounts of softwood and other forestry products and have been hampered by an unjustified softwood lumber dispute.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told the CBC in an interview aired Sunday that protecting Keystone XL and other energy exports to the U.S. is a top priority for the Liberal government.

"We're going to be making our case, saying that Canada is the most reliable energy supplier to the United States," he said on Rosemary Barton Live. "This is true for Keystone XL. This is true for electricity in the East Coast."

While Feltmate said he expects Biden would press ahead with cancelling Keystone, but that there would be a focus on retraining and other efforts to protect jobs as Canada and the U.S. transition to greener energy sources.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version carried an incorrect last name for New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs.