Policy alignment, predictability to mark Canada-U.S. relationship under Biden, ambassador says

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The shared priorities between this country and its southern neighbour — including the COVID-19 crisis, economic recovery and climate policy — will define the Canada-U.S. relationship under a Biden presidency, Canada's ambassador to the United States says.

"I think that the Biden administration and our government have an enormous amount of policy alignment," Kirsten Hillman said in an interview airing Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

"And I think also that we are going to find a more predictable government to deal with and a bit more traditional relations in terms of how we deal with them," she added.

Ahead of president-elect Joe Biden's inauguration — which Hillman will attend in person — Canada's top diplomat in Washington said tackling the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is a chief concern.

"We are both focusing on ... ensuring the safety and health of our citizens, respecting science, respecting experts, being clear and consistent in the advice that we give [and] caring about people around the world in that regard as well," Hillman told CBC's Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton.

Getting Canada and the U.S. "back on track economically ... in partnership with each other" is also a priority on the countries' long list of mutual policies, as is climate change, Hillman said.

Trudeau, Biden have 'very warm' relationship

Despite their common goals, the United States that Biden will inherit is still reeling from the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol and accusations that outgoing President Donald Trump incited the attack.

"You can imagine how much [Biden's] got on his plate with COVID and the economy and now the events of last week and the repercussions that are coming out of that," Hillman said. "I do think that he's been pretty clear around some of the aspects of his economic policy that are a little more protectionist than we would want to see."

Biden's pandemic recovery plan includes a pledge to "Buy American" — a promise to purchase, produce and develop made-in-America goods.

As for whether the relationship between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the incoming president will mirror that of Trudeau and former president Barack Obama, Hillman said such ties are forged among the myriad ways both countries "interact and work together."

"But of course, the tone at the top matters. It's not the only thing that matters, but it does matter. And the prime minister and president-elect Biden have a very warm and good relationship. So that is definitely going to be an asset."

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Fostering connections during last 4 years

A change in administration also doesn't mean the connections Canada formed over the past four years were all for naught.

"We always work really hard to foster strong relations on the Hill, in particular in the Senate and in the House, because in the system of governance here ... it's a co-equal branch of government that has an awful lot of authority over issues that matter a lot to Canada," Hillman said.

The ambassador pointed to the renegotiated NAFTA deal as an example of those relationships in action.

"We went across the nation, and it was very healthy for the Canada-U.S. relationship, that activity. It was very healthy for us to remind each other of the degree to which we are integrated, the degree to which we are mutually supportive."

Hillman said she's in talks with Biden's transition team but noted that incoming nominees and appointees to the White House are not engaging directly with foreign governments until a new president is sworn in.

"If we look at the slate of appointees and nominees that are coming [into] the Biden administration, many, many of them are well known to Canada and really good friends of Canada," she said. "So that is also a strong reason for optimism."