Defence, Economy on the Agenda as Biden Makes an Overdue Canada Visit

Defence, Economy on the Agenda as Biden Makes an Overdue Canada Visit
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with U.S. President Joe Biden at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, Calif., on June 9, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
Lee Harding
3/16/2023
Updated:
3/16/2023
0:00
When U.S. President Joe Biden visits Canada next week, topics up for discussion when he meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau include defence cooperation, ongoing efforts to support Ukraine, and “enhanced collaboration to address the synthetic opioid crisis that has devastated both countries,” according to a White House press statement.
During Biden’s two-day visit March 23 to 24, the two leaders will also discuss strengthening trade ties, building resilient supply chains, and advancing cooperation in the Arctic as they continue to “increase collaboration on defence and security, climate action, and immigration,” says a statement issued by Trudeau’s office.

Although several other topics were noted and the two statements included similar content, they led with slightly different emphases. Notably, neither statement mentioned China.

It will be Biden’s first trip to Canada as president for a meeting with Trudeau, which some see as overdue.

Robert Huebert, political science professor at the University of Calgary, says such leaders’ summits have capped off or led to important developments over the decades.

“This has always been a critical element of the so-called special relationship. And what we’ve always understood is that North America, of course, is one continent, and particularly on issues of security and on issues of economics, that we function the best when we work together,” Huebert said in an interview.

U.S. President Barack Obama hosted Trudeau in Washington in March 2016, and Trudeau returned the favour the following June. Obama addressed Parliament on that visit, which Biden will also do on March 23. Biden visited Canada as vice-president in December 2016 following President Donald Trump’s election victory.

“Trump just wasn’t interested in U.S.-Canadian relations, and so that kind of went by the wayside," Huebert said.

“It was then compounded. I think it became pretty obvious that Trudeau had little interest in trying to facilitate any meeting, given the fact that there was an obvious deterioration in the personal relationship between the two.”

What’s surprising, he added, is how long it has taken for the meetings between the two countries’ leaders to resume.

“We are now going into the third year of the Biden administration, and it’s only now that we’re seeing the summit meeting coming forward.”

In February, a Chinese spy balloon and three unidentified flying objects were shot down over North America, something Huebert expects the leaders will talk about again. He sees the intrusions as having dual purposes.

“I have no doubt that they probably had all their satellites, surveillance systems turned on, they probably had listening posts listening to our communications,” he said. “But a smart enemy would also utilize them as a means of testing the capabilities of North America.”

Economy, Looming Threats

The White House statement on the visit led with the issues of security, prosperity, and values, especially “defence cooperation and modernizing the North American Aerospace Defense Command, strengthening supply chain resilience, taking bold action to combat climate change and accelerate the clean energy transition.”
James Fergusson, a political studies professor at the University of Manitoba, says the meeting comes amid a changing political, military, and economic environment in the world.

“I’ve a suspicion the major thing will be economic, given the two bank failures in the United States, given American investments in green technology, those will be the primary issues for Canada and the United States trying to ensure for the Canadian perspective, that we remain competitive,” Fergusson said in an interview.

“They will also talk about the war in Ukraine and problems, of course, with procuring the necessary materials to support Ukraine by sustaining our own capabilities. There will be probably some discussions about the Arctic issues with regards to Russian and growing Chinese presence in the Arctic, but nothing related to sovereignty.”

Scott Edward Bennett, a political science professor at Carleton University, expects the visit will include discussion of the nations’ mutual interests and shared concern over looming threats.

“Defence will be of importance because of the many conflicts and potential conflicts that are underway and which Canada can no longer ignore. It must be more willing to accept American help in monitoring the North as well. We will not likely get our act together on our own,” Bennett told The Epoch Times.

“No doubt Washington is taking notice that Saudi Arabia and Iran are making nice now. Never thought I would see that.”

Bennett suspects that “subtle pivots” in policy may be advanced in the leaders’ private discussions, the evidence for which will manifest in future months.

“I think the Biden administration is starting to figure out that they have been going down the wrong path with a variety of issues relating to defence, natural resources, immigration, and international relations,” he said.

“It will also be the subtle beginning of more cooperation in developing traditional forms of energy, cooperating in surveillance and defence, guarding technology from foreign interests, adapting to rapidly changing alliances in the rest of the world and dealing with illegal immigration.”

Illegal Immigration

Roxham Road, about 50 kilometres south of Montreal, has long been a route for asylum-seekers who would rather try to immigrate to Canada than to the United States. It has sparked deeper political interest in recent weeks.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault has asked the federal government to settle the new asylum-seekers in other provinces, provide more funding to pay for their care, and close the irregular border crossing, which is located between official points of entry. This prompted Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre on Feb. 21 to call on Trudeau to shut down the crossing within a month.

The two nations share a Safe Third Country Agreement that says “individuals entering Canada at a land port of entry continue to be ineligible to make a refugee claim, and will be returned to the U.S.” Trudeau wants that agreement renegotiated to extend to illegal border crossings and has indicated it will be on the discussion table when he sees Biden.

Don Dusserud, political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, says it’s an example of an issue not only of Ottawa’s bilateral relationship with Washington, but also with one of its own provinces.

“The people that are coming in are not coming to Quebec. They’re coming to Canada as far as they’re concerned. Quebec may have a point that just because the road is there, it doesn’t mean that they have to deal with them, because there’s an expense involved,” Dusserud told The Epoch Times.

He said Americans have far greater concerns with their southern border, which opens the possibility that accommodating the Canadian request may not be a large hurdle.

“I know there’s a symbolism involved with that, but the open border is never meant to be a free-for-all,” Dusserud said.

“Whether Biden is open to this or not, I don’t know. But there are a lot of people in United States, particularly in border states, that depend upon and rely upon and are quite happy with Canadian trade, and they have a strong voice there as well. So I think there’s a possibility of something coming out of that one.”

Fergusson believes a two-day visit is routine, but Dusserud thinks differently.

“Two days I think is a significant statement. Now, what kind of statement is trickier,” he said.

“The United States pays no attention to whether we are the first country that the American president visits when it’s a new American president, and how quickly they make that visit, and Canada reads a lot into that.

“This is relatively late for an American president to visit. One way to offset any hard feelings is to extend your visit so that it’s a significant visit.”

Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.
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