The U.S. is in the final stretch of the 2020 election with the debate spectacles soon to come. Many Canadians are watching the U.S. election, waiting for it to be over, but also wondering what the future holds for Canada-U.S. relations, regardless of the outcome. So much media attention has been given to what U.S President Donald Trump said or did to Canada, but I am not convinced that the rough waters would be any calmer under a Joe Biden presidency.
To that end, it’s important to note that for the past four years Canada has been mentioned by both political sides in the U.S. as leverage for their own causes.
President Trump has accused Canada of unfair trade practices many times. He applied tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum for “national security” reasons, and refused to sign the communique at the G7 event hosted by Canada due to perceived disrespect from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. President Trump and the U.S. government also leaned on Canadian law enforcement to arrest Ms. Meng Wanzhou, which led to a dramatic decline in the Canada-China relationship.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have pushed back against President Trumps’s isolationist rhetoric to say “we cannot treat allies (Canada) like this.” Former Obama loyalists like Bruce Heyman, former U.S. ambassador to Canada, have occupied the airwaves in Canada and the U.S. stating that the White House is treating America’s greatest ally terribly.
If Biden is elected as president, I think we will find out that the Democrats are not as “O Canada” as they have been pretending to be over the last four years.
Prior to the Trump presidency, Republicans were generally viewed as the free traders, preaching the need for economic and military global alliances. This has changed under the current administration as populism and isolationism have gripped the party narrative. The Democrats were not the free trading party stereotypically, but President Obama championed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Biden’s commitment to trade will be key.
One of the key examples to watch out for under a Democrat or Republican administration going forward is the push for a return of mandatory country-of-origin labeling. The World Trade Organization, which made the U.S. drop the policy due to discrimination against Canadian livestock last time, is currently in shambles.
As all countries attempt to recover from the impacts of COVID, Canada is heavily reliant on the U.S. economy to achieve its economic objectives. Due to proximity and decades of a strong trading relationship, Canada is not well-prepared and comfortable with a sour relationship with its neighbour to the south. And this isn’t just about exports, but imports as well, as Canada is the largest importer of U.S. goods, valued at $299 billion in 2018.
While Canada is the U.S.’s largest trading partner, it’s a much smaller economic power that has proven to be an easy country to beat up on for domestic political gains elsewhere. Both the U.S. and China have taken turns recently making an example of Canada for domestic reasons through trade tactics.
President Trump has very low approval ratings in Canada, but does Biden deserve higher praise based on some of the protectionist rhetoric rolled out in the rust belt swing states this fall? Canadians may find out that no matter the political stripe, the increasing protectionism and isolationism in U.S. is a major threat to Canada’s own economic fortunes.