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.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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35.4: The US has overtaken China as the country with the largest share of the world's Bitcoin mining networks, now accounting for 35.4 of the global mining presence. This comes after the Chinese government banned domestic cryptocurrency mining operations to promote its own digital yuan that would track every single transaction.

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