Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should focus on setting common goals in his videoconference call on Tuesday with U.S. President Joe Biden. The two countries have great challenges to overcome. They are tied so tightly together that they have to work as a team in order to get anywhere.
The first thing to establish is that the sour and bullying atmosphere of the Donald Trump years is just a bad memory. Mr. Biden knows enough to show great courtesy to Canada and its prime minister. Mr. Trudeau should show that he and his country bear no shadow of ill-will despite four years of Mr. Trump’s combative bluster.
The second thing that needs joint recognition is that these two countries stand or fall together. In joint defence, in manufacturing, in entertainment, in disease control, in technology, in energy trade, in control of air pollution, these two countries are as close as conjoined twins, functioning to some extent as a single organism. We can use that closeness to drag each other down, but at the best of times we prop each other up.
Canada needs the U.S. to succeed in beating back the COVID-19 pandemic because Canadians can’t be virus-free until Americans are healthy – and vice-versa. Canada needs the U.S. to restore employment and industrial output in the same way – and vice-versa.
Mr. Trudeau should not pick a fight with Mr. Biden over a "buy American" government procurement policy. He should simply point out that an enormous range of U.S. goods and services contain Canadian components. Mindlessly excluding those U.S. goods and services from government procurement will probably do more harm than good.
Nor should Mr. Trudeau expect Mr. Biden to reach across the ocean and pluck our Canadian hostages, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, from their Chinese prisons. They are pawns in a larger game. It is worth recalling, however, that the U.S. government’s extradition demand got us into this particular conflict with China and the U.S. government has to help us resolve it. Canada has been taking one for the team every day for more than two years now in this connection.
Canada and the U.S. both need to curb their emissions of greenhouse gases. Canada is already charging a modest, entry-level carbon tax in order to nudge consumers and industries in the direction of lower carbon use. We cannot, however, risk pricing Canadian manufacturers out of markets dominated by U.S. competitors. Mr. Trudeau should find out how fast Mr. Biden plans to move during this four-year term of office.
While the Americans are mourning 500,000 dead in the COVID-19 pandemic (compared to 22,000 in Canada), Mr. Biden should not be expected to allow shipments of U.S.-made vaccines to Canada, where the disease burden is less. Since the virus panic is subsiding in both countries, however, it may be worth discussing a better sharing of vaccine supplies in the summer and fall.
If Tuesday’s talks go well, cabinet secretaries in Washington and cabinet ministers in Ottawa should immediately get acquainted and buckle down to the joint tasks the two countries face in common. They should be confident that their bosses like and understand each other and recognize the political forces at work in the two capitals. If the talks don't go as well as is hoped and expected, the two countries will still walk side by side, but it will take longer to get there.