GZERO Media logo

The US and Canada’s complicated love story

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Joe Biden

US President Joe Biden has said he wants to patch up a US-Canada relationship that frayed under Trump. In fact, Biden's first phone call to a foreign leader after taking office was to Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That makes sense, considering the two long-allied democracies share a continent and do some $700 billion in annual trade across the world's longest land border.

Biden and Trudeau — who was best buddies with Barack Obama, Biden's former boss — share views in many areas, from human rights and democracy promotion to, in principle, climate change. But a host of issues will make it hard to smooth things over completely. What are the main sticking points between Ottawa and Washington right now?


🛢Climate and energy🛢. One of Biden's first executive orders scrapped the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would have carried oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf — a boon for Canada's oil industry, the country's number one export and crucial to its post-pandemic recovery. While Biden's move was consistent with his commitment to prioritize investment in clean energy, some in Ottawa felt snubbed by a lack of consultation.

Nixing the deal was a massive blow for Canada, which was relying on Keystone's infrastructure to boost its transportation capacity from landlocked Alberta province to lucrative energy markets in the Gulf Coast. "The US won't bear much of a cost… that will fall almost entirely on Canada," read a recent scathing editorial in Canada's Globe and Mail publication. To be sure, the US stands to lose roughly 3,900 — mostly temporary — jobs over a two-year period because of the axed deal. Still, Canada was on the losing side this time.

💰Trade equation💰. Biden's "Buy American'' executive order obligates US federal agencies to prioritize American bidders for US-based contracts worth more than $10,000. Importantly, it also raises the amount of US material a venture must include in order to be certified as "American-made."

While this protectionist approach to procurement is not new, Ottawa is worried that it will disrupt supply chains as it tries to boost its pandemic-battered economy (Canada's GDP shrank by 5.1 percent in 2020).

The implications of "Buy American" are clear: more American-made products means less foreign made ones. That's a blow for Canadian exports, 75 percent of which are sent to the US. As COVID rages on and the US-Canada border has remained closed for almost a year, these challenges are now more pronounced.

The US-China continuum. Like many other US allies looking towards a future with China as an economic superpower, Canada wants to maintain a robust alliance with a politically volatile US while also seeking to diversify economic relations with a country that could soon be the world's largest economy.

Indeed, Ottawa recently experienced the blowback of having its eggs in (mostly) one basket when the Trump administration slapped tariffs on Canadian aluminium, and demanded the grueling renegotiation of NAFTA. For Canadians, the recent policy volatility from one US administration to the next reinforces the need to make more friends, not fewer.

Chinese telecommunications has also become entangled in the US-Canada-China triangle. Canada has unofficially sidelined Chinese tech giant Huawei's 5G networks to appease Washington. Additionally, the arrest in Canada of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou (at the behest of the US for helping Huawei evade US sanctions on Iran) prompted Beijing to arbitrarily imprison two Canadian citizens. Clearly, the combative approach the US has taken towards China in recent years has been inescapable for middle-power Canada.

But China also presents Canada with new opportunities to cooperate on areas of mutual importance like climate change. These dynamics require a carefully crafted balancing act from a liberal pragmatist like Trudeau.

Looking ahead: Canada's longtime problem in Washington — lack of attention — will be profound under Biden. Trudeau and Trump both needed each other to pass a new trade pact, but Biden can make progress on many of his policy priorities (climate change, Iran, immigration) without help from the northern neighbor — and the Canadians know that their help is not crucial for America's new leader.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele is an unusual politician. The 39-year old political outsider boasts of his political triumphs on TikTok, dons a suave casual uniform (backwards-facing cap; leather jacket; tieless ), and refuses to abide by Supreme Court rulings.

Bukele also enjoys one of the world's highest approval ratings, and that's what helped his New Ideas party clinch a decisive victory in legislative elections on February 28, securing a close to two-third's supermajority (75 percent of the vote had been counted at the time of this writing).

His triumph will resonate far beyond the borders of El Salvador, Central America's smallest country, home to 6.5 million people. Now that Bukele has consolidated power in a big way, here are a few key developments to keep an eye on.

More Show less

Now that millions of high-priority Americans have been vaccinated, many people in low-risk groups are starting to ask the same question: when's my turn? Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious diseases expert, has an answer, but probably not the one they're hoping for: "It probably won't be until May or June before we can at least start to get the normal non-prioritized person vaccinated." On GZERO World, Dr. Fauci also addresses another burning question: why aren't schools reopening faster? And while Dr. Fauci acknowledges that reopening schools must be a top priority, he has no quick fixes there, either. In fact, that's kind of a theme of the interview.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Dr. Fauci's Pandemic Prognosis

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

I thought I would talk today, I haven't spoken much about former President Trump since he's no longer president and I intend to continue that practice. But given this weekend and the big speech at CPAC and the fact that in the straw poll, Trump won and won by a long margin. I mean, DeSantis came in number two, but he's the Governor of Florida, CPAC was in Orlando, so that's a home court bias. In reality, it's Trump's party. And I think given all of that, it's worth spending a little bit of time reflecting on what that means, how I think about these things.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

More Show less
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Biden strikes Syria. Now what?

Quick Take