Biden won. What does that mean for Canada?


By Rachel Aiello

OTTAWA — After days of tallying votes, The Associated Press has declared that Joe Biden has won the 2020 presidential election. That means Canada will be readying for an incoming Democratic administration, after four years of often-tense relations with Donald Trump.

Over the course of the campaign, looked at the key policy approaches, commitments, and track records of both president-elect Biden and outgoing president Trump to get a sense of what impact each would have on Canada in the event of their election. 

Here’s a rundown of what a new Biden administration means for Canada on some key files, from the perspective of policy experts.


While many Americans don't typically spend a lot of time thinking about the Canadian border, 2020 has not been a typical year. Non-essential land crossings have been blocked since March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite exemptions for some to reunite with loved ones, and kind words from both sides about the collaboration on decisions around the border closure, the still-raging virus means that cross-border travel is set to be restricted for some time.

For how long, though, could depend on how successful Biden is at following through on his promise to get COVID-19 under control in his country. 

When it comes to immigration, Canada has lofty goals for the year ahead in terms of welcoming new citizens. While Canada was thought to have benefitted in some ways by appearing to be a more inviting country for newcomers during Trump’s presidency, Biden has a more open stance on immigration.

So, under the Democrats there could be new competition for immigrants as Biden has plans to expand the number of high-skilled worker visas granted in that country. 

Biden has said that his immigration proposals are one way he will "take urgent action to undo Trump's damage." A common theme of his campaign material is that his presidency would be focused on reverting immigration policies enacted in the last four years.

An outstanding border issue remains the Federal Court's striking down of the law underpinning the Safe Third Country Act, which allows Canada to turn back asylum-seekers from outside the U.S. at border crossings and require them to apply for protection in the U.S. instead. This is one we’ll have to watch to see how it plays out, and whether a different U.S. administration will be a factor. 


Trade has been one of the biggest issues in the Canada-United States relationship over the last four years, as the renegotiation and ratification of the new North American Free Trade Agreement played out alongside the levelling of tariffs and counter-tariffs. 

While Canadians aren’t in for another round of trade talks, Biden’s campaign platform contained an entire section on his planned approach to trade, and it’s centred around ensuring that “the future is made in all of America.” 

His trade plans include bringing back critical supply chains so they’re not dependent on other nations during a crisis, and promising to tighten domestic content rules, which may have implications for some closely-linked Canadian manufacturing sectors. 

Further, so long as the Canada-U.S. border remains closed, the business and economic relationship between the two countries is likely going to remain strained, with outstanding and evergreen trade irritants. 

Earnscliffe Strategy Group's Sarah Goldfeder, who has previously worked as a special assistant to two former U.S. ambassadors to Canada, told in a past interview that Biden is more likely to lean into the approach the Canadians have tried to take, of making trade deals do more than facilitate the movement of goods.

“You see trade policy being asked to do things that aren't necessarily trade, like ensure that there's a fair playing field for workers, ensure there's environmental regulation that protects the planet, and ensure that there's some sort of level playing field and clear rules for the retention of ideas and intellectual property. And so those things aren’t really trade,” said Goldfeder. 

“A Biden administration would focus more on the things that are kind of outside trade policy that we ask trade to do,” she said, adding that he’d likely look for a more nuanced trade conversation with a less punitive approach. 

However, there isn’t a great deal of daylight between Trump’s and Biden’s focuses on protecting American jobs so a Trump defeat also wouldn’t necessarily spell the end of trade action against Canadian goods. 

Broadly speaking, the declaration of Biden as the next president of the United States should offer some immediate market certainty, but how the economy will fare long-term will depend to a degree on how he chooses to implement potential future pandemic stimulus as well as his plan to raise taxes on wealthier Americans. 


Climate change is often described as the most urgent political issue of our time, and Biden now has the power to lead the U.S. through a moment that many top environmental experts consider a tipping point in human history. 

Biden’s environmental plan is starkly different from Trump’s. In July, he released a $1.7-trillion “Clean Energy Revolution” plan that would invest heavily in green technology and aggressively pursue making the U.S. power sector emissions-free by 2035. 

He has also vowed to recommit the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement and to encourage other countries to ramp up their own emissions-cutting goals. 

Biden pitched his environmental plan as part of a coronavirus recovery mission, saying that the investments in green infrastructure will create much-needed jobs and help kick-start the slumping U.S. economy, a sentiment shared by Trudeau’s cabinet. 

On Keystone XL -- a multi-billion dollar project that would transfer more than 800,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Alberta to Nebraska -- Biden vowed early on that he would scrap the pipeline, despite Canada’s backing and Alberta already investing billions into the project. 

Werner Antweiler, a business professor at the University of British Columbia and an expert in international trade, has previously told that regardless of Biden’s position, there is some doubt the project will ever get off the ground. 

“Biden can try to reconnect all he wants, but he’s not looking to reconnect on energy. So I don’t see in the next five to 10 years where anyone in U.S. leadership says we really need to deepen our ties to Canada in terms on energy security,” Lander said. 


While Canada’s and the United States’ foreign policy approaches have differed lately, when it comes to China our dealings with the Asian superpower have become intertwined on a few major files with significant political repercussions. 

Those include the U.S. extradition case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and retaliatory detention of Canadians’ Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and Canada’s decision whether or not to join the other Five Eyes nations in banning Huawei from its 5G network. 

Biden’s view is that the next president “must repair our relationships with our allies and stand up to strongmen and thugs on the global stage to rally the world to meet these challenges,” but doesn’t state which category he’d put China in. During the Democratic primary debates he often emphasized China’s authoritarianism. 

“I'm convinced that the Democrats would want to reinstitute some of the dialogues that they have had,” said former ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques in a past interview. Saint-Jacques said Biden’s past travel to China in his role as vice president would be an asset.

“Overall it would be less confrontational,” he said, adding that with Biden there could be an opportunity for a new approach to the two Michaels. Saint-Jacques suggested that he may be more open to negotiating an agreement for a settlement instead of pursuing the charges against Meng, which could then lead to her being returned to China -- and ideally Kovrig and Spavor returned to Canada. 

As for foreign policy more generally, Steven Lamy, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California, said to expect a return to “Obama style” diplomacy. 

Though, a Biden administration might continue to try to pressure Canada and other below-two-per-cent NATO countries into increasing their defence spending. He’ll also have to decide the future of the country's military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Biden could find himself caught between prominent Democrats who want the U.S. to help rebuild those countries and the many party voters who are ready for American troops to return home.

“I think Biden will bring back that multilateralism, he'll bring back the bigger focus on things like rights, which again, Canada can be very supportive of,” Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a science, society and policy senior fellow at the University of Ottawa, told in a previous interview. 

— with files from Ryan Flanagan and Graham Slaughter 


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