Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle

Biden/Trudeau summit to avoid some Canadian priorities?

U.S. summit ‘road map’ focuses on mutual interests, steers clear of Canadian potholes

The White House did not acknowledge Canada’s own wish list for President Joe Biden’s meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, focusing instead Tuesday on areas of “shared vision” and “mutual concern.”

The U.S. administration’s “road map” for enhanced co-operation between the two countries lays out priorities for Biden’s first bilateral meeting as president — a route that steers well clear of potential potholes.

“The road map is a blueprint for our whole-of-government relationship, based on our shared values and commitment to work in partnership on areas of mutual concern,” the White House said.

It lays out six priority areas, including battling the pandemic, rebuilding the economy “on both sides of the border,” and a “high-level climate ministerial” meeting to align efforts to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

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It also mentions social diversity and inclusion, expanded co-operation on continental defence and a modernized NORAD, and restoring a collective commitment to global institutions like NATO and the World Trade Organization.

The section on “Building Back Better” — a turn of phrase from Biden’s presidential campaign that’s also popular with the Trudeau government — pays tribute to Liberal election rhetoric as well, promising a vision “that strengthens the middle class and creates more opportunities for hard-working people to join it.”

A number of Canada’s explicit priorities, including access to COVID-19 vaccines, freeing Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig from China or securing an exemption to Buy American, are conspicuously absent.

So too is any mention of Keystone XL, the on-again, off-again cross-border pipeline expansion Biden cancelled with the stroke of his presidential pen on his first day in office.

Experts want Ottawa to push the U.S. hard to exempt Canada from Buy American, Biden’s suite of protectionist measures to ensure infrastructure spending prioritizes American businesses.

No immediate changes to that regime are on the horizon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

“He signed an executive order; we’re of course evaluating procurement components of that, but no changes anticipated.”

Trudeau is nonetheless expected to ask for fewer restrictions on U.S. vaccine exports, since Canada has been squeezed by production problems in Europe, and for more help in bringing Spavor and Kovrig home.

They were detained in an apparent act of retaliation after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 on U.S. charges of violating sanctions on Iran.

On the two Michaels, Psaki would only say, “The prime minister will bring up whatever he would like to bring up, as is true of any bilateral meeting.”

The White House also says the two plan to resurrect the North American Leaders’ Summit — a trilateral meeting of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, more commonly known as the “Three Amigos” summit, which hasn’t been convened since 2016.

Eric Miller, a Canada-U. S. expert and president of the D.C.-based Rideau Potomac Strategy Group, said the synchronicity between the two leaders is why Trudeau needs to seize the moment.

“To me, this is exactly the moment for Canada to go on offence,” Miller said.

The Biden administration and the Trudeau government have aligned interests on climate change, a multilateral foreign policy and on a new approach to China, he said.

And Biden, an outspoken champion of unions, needs to be careful not to run afoul of organized labour groups with large memberships on opposite sides of the border.

“If I were Canada, I’d be pitching very strongly for a Buy American agreement — I mean, the worst they can say is no,” Miller said.

Blue-collar workers in Canada “are pretty much exactly the same as their U.S. counterparts. Why are you going to hit them with restrictions when it’s like hitting your cousin?”

Maryscott Greenwood, the chief executive officer of the Canadian American Business Council, said the Prime Minister’s Office would do well to imagine Donald Trump is still in the White House.

“Canada embarked on a very, very forward-leaning, activist agenda about engaging the U.S., inside and outside of D.C.” when Trump was in office, she said.

“It’s going to be important to have that level of urgency and that level of effort, and not just assume that everything’s good now that Biden’s here.”

That was made clear when Keystone XL was promptly cancelled last month, said Bill Reilly, who led the Environmental Protection Agency from 1989 to 1993 under former president George Bush.

Canada is “very likely to be raising issues that run counter to some of the environmental aspirations that animate the Biden administration,” Reilly told a panel discussion Monday hosted by the American Council for Capital Formation.

“I don’t think some of these issues are going to lend themselves to easy resolution.”

— James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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