Biden or More Trump: What Canadians Need to Know about the 2020 U.S. Election


Image credit: Force Ten Design


by Colin Robertson
CGAI Vice-President & Fellow
October 2020


Table of Contents


That Nov. 3 is the “most consequential” U.S. election in our lifetime is likely correct and not just for Americans. If it’s four more years of Donald Trump, then the preppers and survivalists may be on to something. Whatever and whenever the results, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is right to say that Canada needs to be “ready for all outcomes”.

Canada’s relationship with the U.S. is the consequential one. NORAD safeguards our security, although whoever forms the next administration is going to press us to invest in a new North Warning System and to increase our defence spending to the NATO target of two per cent of GDP (we currently spend 1.3 per cent).  The new Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade agreement (CUSMA) guarantees access to what is still the biggest market in the world and the preferred entry point for fledgling Canadian exporters. Our shared environment is managed through a web of agreements dating back to the Boundary Waters Treaty and the International Joint Commission (1909).

Despite the asymmetries of power, with care and constant attention we have mostly enjoyed a remarkable partnership that is the envy of other nations. It also leverages our diplomacy. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney described it best: “Canada’s influence in the world is measured to a significant degree by the extent to which we are perceived as having real influence in Washington.”

Geopolitics’ shifting tides suggest that the U.S. is in relative decline and certainly its handling of COVID has shaken global confidence. Although Trump has damaged the American brand, the U.S. still enjoys considerable hard and soft power. Canada cannot change its geography, nor would we want to. So, we need to keep investing in our most important relationship, no matter who is president.


If Trump Wins

After the duelling town halls (Oct.15), the Daily Beast headline caught the zeitgeist of the campaign: “The Biden and Trump Shows: It’s Mr. Rogers vs. ‘Someone’s Crazy Uncle’.” For Trump, re-election will be a reaffirmation of “America First”, but unlike 2016 when he campaigned on themes like “Build the Wall”, “Repeal NAFTA” and “Drain the Swamp”, the platform this time is essentially “More Trump.”

It means a continuation of his transactional approach to issues, and those transactions must serve his domestic priorities. As Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross put it at the outset of NAFTA renegotiations with Canada and Mexico: “We’re trying to do a difficult thing. We’re asking two countries to give up some privileges that they have enjoyed for 22 years. And we’re not in a position to offer anything in return.”



The Trudeaus and Trumps in the Oval Office 2017 Source PMO

Trump has revolutionized personal diplomacy through his constant tweets. They have obliged foreign ministries to set up 24/7 Trump watches. It has been a revolving door for those minding his national security, defence and foreign policies. Despite its incoherence and unpredictability, Trump’s view of the world remains that set out in his inaugural address:

For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own. And spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon … From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.

And as he told West Point graduates in June: 

We are restoring the fundamental principles that the job of the American soldier is not to rebuild foreign nations, but defend – and defend strongly – our nation from foreign enemies. We are ending the era of endless wars. In its place is a renewed, clear-eyed focus on defending America’s vital interests. It is not the duty of U.S. troops to solve ancient conflicts in faraway lands that many people have never even heard of. We are not the policemen of the world.

Acting on his contempt for multilateralism, Trump pulled the USA out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Open Skies Treaty. He refused to join the global migration pact and the European-led efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 or the Franco-German Alliance on Multilateralism.

We can expect withdrawals from more multilateral organizations, starting with the World Trade Organization (WTO). He also promises to let lapse the New START accord, which limited the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by the United States and Russia. He has tried to reduce U.S. contributions to the UN – U.S. funding accounts for close to 1/5 of the UN budget – but Congress has sustained the U.S. support. Trump’s speeches at the UN have been bombastic and defiantly unilateralist. His debut speech (2017) to UNGA was an ode to sovereignty,  telling delegates that “our success depends on a coalition of strong, independent nations that embrace their sovereignty, to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world.”

Alliances don’t figure much in the Trump world view. As two of his principal advisors, H.R. McMaster and Gary D. Cohn, phrased it in the Wall Street Journal  (May 2017): “The world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”

In a recent discussion at the Aspen Institute, current National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien described the Trump approach as dealing “with the world as it is and not as we wish it to be and we don’t turn a blind eye to the conduct of our competitors or adversaries… the idea of leading from behind and strategic patience has been cast aside by this administration… America First but not America Alone.” O’Brien summarized the Trump achievements: destruction of the ISIS Caliphate, American hostages brought home, replacement of NAFTA with USMCA and revised trade deals with Korea and Japan, curbing undocumented refugees from Central America, better burden sharing within NATO, stronger military including the creation of the Space Force, improved relations with India and Brazil, revitalized alliances in the Indo-Pacific, peace agreement with the Taliban and troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, pressure campaign on Iran and its allies in the region, the Abraham Accords bringing peace between the Gulf Arabs, and now Sudan with Israel and the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem

Looking ahead, O’Brien also said that a Trump administration is “not going to stay in international organizations that are corrupt or that are totally controlled by the Chinese if we can’t reform them. We’re going to try and reform them first. We’re not going to stay involved in the Human Rights Council or the WHO where they’re fully corrupt.”

Trump’s trade wars – tariffs and quotas -  have been aimed at adversaries, like China, as well as allies like Canada; in Canada’s case, often using the dubious claim of defending ‘national security’. Trump’s trade actions are challenged at the World Trade Organization. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Trump tariffs have cost the average US household $1277 a year while the New York Fed points out their cost to American manufacturers that rely on imports.  

Mr. Trump claims, falsely, that the WTO takes advantage of the U.S. For Canada, which is leading efforts to reform WTO dispute settlement, a second Trump administration means the threat of more tariffs – blueberries may be next – and quota arrangements, whether formal as with autos or informal as with aluminum.

A Trump administration devoted to further deregulation, fossil fuel exploitation, more tariffs and lower taxes also presents complications for Canada. It will be hard to square competitiveness with a green shift and social justice redistribution if the U.S. is headed in the opposite direction.

Immigration to the US has halved under Donald Trump, to about 600,000 people per year — a level not seen since the 1980s — according to an analysis by William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution. As Frey told the New York Times, the drop “is clearly a result of Trump’s restrictive immigration measures, including immigrant bans from selected countries, greater limits on refugees, and generating fear among other potential immigrant groups over this administration’s unwelcoming policies.”

Trump has sliced US refugee admissions to such an extent that Canada is now the lead refugee resettlement country.  Canada resettled 28,000 refugees in 2018, while the U.S. resettled 23,000, down from 33,000 in 2017 and 97,000 in 2016.


If Biden Wins

Life for Canada would be easier with a Joe Biden administration. An internationalist, as vice-president he told the World Economic Forum three days before leaving office in 2017 that “for the past seven decades, the choices we have made – particularly the United States and our allies in Europe – have steered our world down a clear path. In recent years, it has become evident that the consensus upholding this system is facing increasing pressures, from within and from without. It’s imperative that we act urgently to defend the liberal international order.”


Justin Trudeau and Joe Biden 2016 Source PMO

It's a theme Biden returned to in his 2019 speeches at the Munich Security Conference (February) and at CUNY New York (July). At Munich he promised that the “America I see does not wish to turn our back to the world or our allies. The America I see – and I mean this from the bottom of my heart – cherishes the free press, democracy, the rule of law.” In New York he promised “to once more place America at the head of the table, leading the world to address the most urgent global challenges” by using multilateralism and valuing democratic allies like Canada.

There is a tendency to assume Americans have slipped into a Trumpian isolationism but a recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, tracking American attitudes for decades, says Americans remain supportive of an active U.S. role in the world. Solid majorities support U.S. security alliances and free trade as the best ways to maintain peace and prosperity. In his July 2019 foreign policy speech, he committed to a summit of democracies modelled on Obama’s nuclear security summits, where leaders would commit to strengthening democracy at home and overseas and “make concrete commitments to take on corruption and advance human rights in their own nations.”


Biden would come to office with the most foreign policy experience of any president since John Quincy Adams, although former Defense secretary and CIA director Robert Gates caustically writes in his memoir that Biden has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”  Biden will also be able to draw on formidable talent well versed in national security– veterans of the Obama and Clinton administrations – as well as Republicans who declared Mr. Trump “unfit” and support Mr. Biden (and we can be sure smart  embassies are reaching out to those on these lists). There is also a major rebuilding job within the professional ranks of the demoralized US Foreign Service.

When asked about foreign interference in the election during the last presidential debate Biden said: “We know that Russia has been involved, China has been involved to some degree, and now we learn that Iran has been involved. They will pay a price if I’m elected.”

On Russia, Biden would align more with the rest of the G7 in seeing Russian revanchism with its immediate neighbours and mischief-making in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and through cyber-subversion and disinformation. Biden will also have to address the problem identified by then Defense Secretary James Mattis in the US Nuclear Posture Review (2018): ”Russia is modernizing these [nuclear] weapons as well as its other strategic systems. Even more troubling has been Russia’s adoption of military strategies and capabilities that rely on nuclear escalation for their success.” Biden promises in ’Why America Must Lead Again,’ Foreign Affairs (2020) to “…pursue an extension of the New START treaty, an anchor of strategic stability between the United States and Russia, and use that as a foundation for new arms control arrangements.”

Biden also promises to “reassess the Saudi Arabia “and US support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil.” Even before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi-Canada relations have been strained on human rights issues.

Biden’s first priority must be a daunting domestic agenda, starting with COVID recovery, along with his commitments to such issues as clean energy, immigration reform and action on social and racial justice. His social justice and green and clean energy policies align with those of the Trudeau government.

Canada needs to leverage off this domestic agenda and identify the natural fits. “Building back better” and the trillion-dollar infrastructure plan come with the protectionist promise of “Buy American.” We need to persuade Biden of the benefits of continental collaboration on resilient, clean infrastructure, including our shared network of pipelines and electrical grids. As reports from Harvard’s Belfer Center and the Council on Foreign Relations underline, this will guarantee both dependable supply chains and mutual prosperity. 

The new North American trade accord includes a competitiveness committee that we need to activate and harness for continuous improvements. Voters tell pollsters that they expect a fairer distribution of the gains of globalization, including accountability for the environment and human rights. Why not start in North America?

Biden has set himself a big agenda. It is hard to run too many things through the U.S. system at once. However, Biden’s Senate experience (1973-2009) and then as vice-president (2009-16) chairing both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees means he knows how to legislate and get it done.

The separation of powers means that even if the Democrats control both chambers in Congress as Bill Clinton did in 1992 and Barack Obama did in 2008, they need to focus on a few priorities, starting with recovery and reform at home. As Biden wrote in a 2017 New York Times op-ed: “In over 45 years of working in global affairs, I’ve observed a simple truth: America’s ability to lead the world depends not just on the example of our power, but on the power of our example.”

Getting time with a new administration is always difficult, so we need to go in with solutions rather than complaints. While Biden threatens to scuttle the Keystone pipeline, we must avoid making it a litmus test of the relationship and instead work it out. But we should be under no illusion: Biden is as green as Obama. As he said in the final presidential debate, he is committed to “transition away from the oil industry.” 

It helps that Biden likes Trudeau. After the 2016 election, Biden publicly called on him to be a defender of the “liberal international order”. While we can count on Trudeau to rekindle the relationship, our premiers and legislators need to continue their own outreach to their American counterparts. The premiers played a critical role in persuading their gubernatorial counterparts to sign on to a reciprocity agreement on procurement in the Obama administration infrastructure program as part of the recovery from the 2008-9 recession.


Looking forward: Debt, Division, COVID & China 

Donald Trump has been a daily part of Canadian life these past four years with his tweets and pronouncements. While he 'entertained' as host of the Apprentice, as President of the Free World he has shocked, frightened and angered Canadians. This we will not miss. A recent survey conducted by ABACUS, says 75 percent of Canadians would vote for Joe Biden and 25 percent for Donald Trump.

In an essay for the Lowy Institute, Brookings scholar Thomas Wright worries that a re-elected Donald Trump would  feel “vindicated and emboldened. He will surround himself with loyalists and will act without constraint. The world may be irrevocably altered — alliances may come to an end, the global economy could close, and democracy could go into rapid retreat.”

A Joe Biden administration, on the other hand, writes Wright, would be a “reprieve” for the rules-based international order. The question will be how closely he hews to the Obama approach on which he has campaigned. Wright says the debate will be between the “restorationists” - those who would continue Obama’s approach, and “reformers”- those who would challenge parts of it on issues like China, foreign economic policy, the Middle East, and democracy. Regardless of the outcome, we also need to keep in mind that as a recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey illustrates, Republicans and Democrats see the world and its threats differently  and these divisions will affect US policy-making.    

Whoever forms the next administration faces a world ravaged by COVID. The World Bank warns that the pandemic is relegating 150 million people to extreme poverty. Trudeau has championed COVID support for the developing world. So why not offer to work with the next administration around the delivery of vaccines that only the U.S. military can achieve, and then on community health drawing on Canadian experience? 

The next administration also faces formidable financial challenges. At 17.9 per cent of GDP in FY 2020 the U.S. federal deficit is almost twice as large than at the worst of the 2009 Great Recession. The federal debt, measured against the size of the economy,  is larger than at any time since the Second World War. Interest on the debt is greater than the budgets of Homeland Security, State, Commerce, Education, Energy, HUD, Interior and Justice.

Managing China will stay at the top of the president’s inbox. After imposing tariffs on China, Trump tried the carrot of a trade deal and a personal relationship with President Xi Jinping. He now blames China for the “China virus” pandemic and is confronting Chinese aggressiveness around Taiwan and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific. The rising Chinese threat is reflected in current U.S. strategic doctrine, the National Security Strategy (2017), which describes China as a revisionist power wanting “to erode American security and prosperity” and “shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests.” The Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy (2018) describes China as a “strategic competitor” that seeks “Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.” In his speech, “Communist China and the Free World’s Future” (July, 2020), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said engagement was a failure and China is pursuing its“decades-long desire for global hegemony of Chinese communism.” 


While the tone will be different, Biden and Congress will be tough with China on trade issues like intellectual property and forced technology transfers, on Chinese infringements of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong, and on human rights issues like repression of the Uighurs. But again, Biden looks to collective action, writing in Foreign Affairs that “the most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations, even as we seek to cooperate with Beijing on issues where our interests converge.”

In the final presidential debate Biden picked up on this theme accusing Trump of embracing “thugs like [Kim Jong-un] in North Korea and the Chinese president [Xi Jinping] and [Russia’s Vladimir] Putin and others, and he pokes his finger in the eye of all of our friends, all of our allies… We need to be having the rest of our friends with us saying to China: these are the rules. You play by them or you’re going to pay the price for not playing by them, economically.”

With Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig held hostage since Canada proceeded with the extradition request for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in December 2019, we have real stakes in this file. Surveys across the democracies indicate increasingly negative attitudes toward China, and in foreign ministries the policy debate on China is resetting from engagement to containment. Canadian attitudes have shown a similar shift toward distrust of China. Where once Canada aimed at comprehensive engagement, Trudeau now speaks of Chinese “coercive diplomacy” and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan talks of “hostage diplomacy”. 




Basics of the Canada-U.S. Relationship

The “golden rule” of Canada-U.S. relations is very simple Brian Mulroney astutely observed: “We can disagree without being disagreeable. The Americans are very important to us. We know they are, notwithstanding the differences, our best ally, our closest neighbour, our biggest customer.” Relationships matter and it starts at the top with the prime minister and president.

If the Trudeau-Obama relationship was characterized as a ‘bromance’ it has been much more difficult with Mr. Trump who seems to prefer dealing with despots rather than democrats. Probably the low point of the Trudeau-Trump personal relationship came at the end of the G7 summit in Charlevoix (June, 2018) when Trump repudiated U.S. signature to the summit communique and tweeted that Trudeau was “so meek and mild…very dishonest & weak”. That Trudeau has restored the personal relationship is a tribute to his perseverance and reflective of another Mulroney observation that the most important relationship for any Canadian prime minister is that with the U.S. president.

When prime ministers and presidents meet, they usually begin their discussions with the big picture: the geostrategic issues of international peace and security, finance and economics, climate and migration. Then they turn to the bilateral, usually conveniently sorted into three big baskets: defence and security; trade and the border; energy, environment and climate.

In her confirmation testimony in July before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ambassador-designate Aldona Wos identified the priority areas for Canada-U.S. international focus as cyber-China, Russia/Ukraine, Iran, Venezuela, counterterrorism, cyber-security and 5G network standards, peacekeeping and the Arctic. These issues are not likely to change no matter who is president.

Defence and Security: Our military, law enforcement and security agencies all work closely together. The U.S. is our principal ally through a series of agreements dating back to before the Second World War, of which the most important is the 1958 bi-national North American Aerospace Defence Agreement (NORAD). The only bi-national military command in the world covers air and maritime defence. We are also jointly committed to collective security through NATO (1949) with a Canadian battle group in Latvia (since 2017) and fighter jets, frigates and submarines patrolling the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and Central and Eastern Europe. Canada and the U.S. share intelligence through the Five Eyes nations group.


Source: DND

Trade and the Border: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 400,000 people and $US2 billion worth of goods and services crossed our borders daily. The border has been closed since March; how and when it will reopen is yet to be determined. But it seems likely that in addition to trade and security (especially since 9/11 when Canada and the USA sought to create a North American security perimeter), public health will now be part of the screening process. Alberta is experimenting with testing at the point of entry and then a second test days later to mitigate quarantine restrictions.

Canada is the largest market for export goods for over 30 states. The United States is Canada’s most important trading partner by a wide margin and it is characterized by heavily integrated supply chains, notably in auto manufacturing. According to the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. goods and services trade with Canada totalled an estimated $718.5 billion in 2018. Exports were $363.8 billion; imports were $354.7 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $9.1 billion in 2018. According to the Department of Commerce, U.S. exports of goods and services to Canada supported an estimated 1.6 million jobs in 2015. Canadian estimates of jobs generated in the U.S. through our bilateral trade tally almost 9 million, while 1.9 million Canadian jobs are related to Canada’s exports to the U.S.


Source: Agriculture Canada

Approximately 75 per cent of our exports go to the U.S. and the U.S. accounts for about 51 per cent of our imports. In 2019, the United States was the recipient of more than one-third of our foreign investment and accounted for about half of our foreign direct investment. The United States remains Canada’s main investment partner. Successive Canadian governments, dating back before Confederation, have consistently sought rules-based commercial agreements of which the 2020 CUSMA is but the latest iteration. Our deep economic integration gives us privileged, but not always secure, access to the biggest market in the world. It requires a permanent campaign by all levels of government in tandem with business, labour and civil society to fend off the forces of protectionism at the local, county, state and national levels.

Energy, Environment and Climate: The energy relationship is vital to both countries – electricity generated in Quebec literally lights up Broadway. Canada is the largest source of U.S. energy imports and the second-largest destination for U.S. energy exports. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, in 2019 energy accounted for US$85 billion, or 27 per cent, of the value of all U.S. imports from Canada. Crude oil and petroleum products accounted for 91 per cent of the value of U.S. energy imports from Canada and 89 per cent of the value of U.S. energy exports to Canada. The United States exported US$23 billion worth of crude oil, petroleum products, natural gas and electricity to Canada in 2019, about eight per cent of the value of all U.S. exports to Canada. The Canadian and U.S. electricity grid is deeply integrated with more than 30 major transmission arteries connecting all contiguous Canadian provinces to neighbouring U.S. states.


Source: Natural Resources Canada

We share joint stewardship for our environment and lead the world in innovative cross-border practices. The Boundary Waters Treaty (1909) established the International Joint Commission that tends to the shared waters along our 5,525-mile-long border. The Great Lakes, with almost 20 per cent of global fresh water, receive special attention. Commitments to protect aquatic habitats, curb invasive species and help coastal communities adapt to climate change were added in 2012 to the 1972 Water Quality Agreement. The rigorous negotiations around the Canada-U.S. Acid Rain Treaty (1991) and the multilateral Montreal Protocol on the ozone layer (1987) serve as a model for how we deal with climate change. Canada and the U.S. are also members of the Arctic Council, established in Canada in 1996 with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration.

Canada in the U.S.: In addition to our embassy in Washington, we have 12 consulates-general throughout the U.S. A number of the provinces also have U.S.-based representatives. Given the depth and importance of our trade and investment, we should have a Canadian presence in every state to act as our eyes, ears and voice. With well over a million star-spangled Canadians living and working in the U.S., we need to rethink how we do business, including making greater use of honorary consuls. 

Basic Facts on the U.S. Election

  • On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Americans will go to the polls to elect their president and 35 members of the Senate (currently held by 23 Republicans and 12 Democrats). The GOP currently holds 53 seats and the Democrats and Independents hold 47 seats in the 100-member Senate. All 435 members of the House of Representatives are up for election. The Democrats hold 231 seats and the GOP 184. There are gubernatorial elections in 11 states with the GOP defending seven and the Democrats four. Nationally, the GOP holds 26 governorships and the Democrats 24. Voters will also elect 5,876 of the country's 7,383 state legislators as well as local sheriffs, judges, county and city councilors. They will also decide on state and civic initiatives, propositions and constitutional amendments. As set out in the Constitution, the next U.S. Congress will begin at noon on January 3, 2021 and the Chief Justice will administer the oath of office to the president at noon on January 20, 2021.
  • The U.S. Elections Project predicts a high turnout of eligible voters (in 2016 it was 55.5 per cent). It estimates (October 21) that over 41 million Americans (nearly 1/3 of the turnout in 2016) have already cast their ballots either in person or through the mail. Over 50 million  – 24 million registered Democrats and 16 million registered Republicans – have requested mail-in ballots.
  • In 2016, the Census calculated that almost two-thirds of eligible white voters cast a ballot. African-American turnout fell to 59 per cent, a drop from both of Obama’s elections. Latino turnout was at 48 per cent. Young people stayed home: only about 46 per cent of eligible voters under 30 turned out, far below the participation among those 45 and older.



Source: US Census Bureau

  • The total cost of the 2020 election will approach $11 billion, more than 50 per cent pricier than 2016, according to estimates from the Center for Responsive Politics.


Source: Pew Foundation


Further Sources

Both Brookings and the Council on Foreign Relations have analyzed Biden’s and Trump’s foreign policies.  For public opinion surveys, look to the Pew Foundation and Chicago Council on Global Affairs. PBS Frontline’s The Choice 2020: Trump vs Biden is riveting watching. For a comprehensive account and insights from a practitioner into American diplomacy read Robert Zoellick’s America in the World: A History of US Diplomacy and Foreign Policy.

There are many books on the Trump presidency; my favourite are Rage (2020) and Fear (2018) by Bob Woodward, and the Washington Post fact-check team’s account Donald Trump and his Assault on Truth (2020). Trump’s own autobiography The Art of the Deal (1987)  is still the best insight into how he operates. Joe Biden’s autobiographies Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics (2007) and Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose (2017) should be read along with Evan Osnos’ Joe Biden: The Life, the run and what matters now (2020) and Jules Witcover’s Joe Biden: A life of Trial and Redemption (2019).

The U.S. embassy and Canadian embassy provide basic facts and the embassies’ state trade fact sheets are especially useful.

For a contemporary view on managing Canada-U.S. relations, listen to former ambassador David MacNaughton in conversation with Paul Wells. For an historical perspective, browse through the Washington Diaries of Allan Gottlieb, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of Canadian diplomacy in the United States, and look to his C.D. Howe lecture on Romanticism and Realism in Canadian Foreign Policy.


About the Author

A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is Vice President and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and hosts its regular Global Exchange podcast.  He is an Executive Fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.  A member of the Department of National Defence’s Defence Advisory Board, Robertson sits on the advisory councils of the Alphen Group, the Johnson-Shoyama School of Public PolicyNorth  American Research Partnership, The Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa and the Conference of Defence Associations Institute  and the North American Forum. He is an Honorary Captain (Royal Canadian Navy) assigned to the Strategic Communications Directorate. During his foreign service career, he served as first Head of the Advocacy Secretariat and Minister at the Canadian Embassy in Washington and Consul General in Los Angeles, as Consul and Counsellor in Hong Kong and in New York at the UN and Consulate General. A member of the teams that negotiated the Canada-U.S. FTA and then the NAFTA, he is a member of the Deputy Minister of International Trade’s Trade Advisory Council. He writes on foreign affairs for  the Globe and Mail and he is a frequent contributor to other media. The Hill Times has named him as one of those that influence Canadian foreign policy.


Canadian Global Affairs Institute

The Canadian Global Affairs Institute focuses on the entire range of Canada’s international relations in all its forms including (in partnership with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy), trade investment and international capacity building. Successor to the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI, which was established in 2001), the Institute works to inform Canadians about the importance of having a respected and influential voice in those parts of the globe where Canada has significant interests due to trade and investment, origins of Canada’s population, geographic security (and especially security of North America in conjunction with the United States), social development, or the peace and freedom of allied nations. The Institute aims to demonstrate to Canadians the importance of comprehensive foreign, defence and trade policies which both express our values and represent our interests.

The Institute was created to bridge the gap between what Canadians need to know about Canadian international activities and what they do know. Historically Canadians have tended to look abroad out of a search for markets because Canada depends heavily on foreign trade. In the modern post-Cold War world, however, global security and stability have become the bedrocks of global commerce and the free movement of people, goods and ideas across international boundaries. Canada has striven to open the world since the 1930s and was a driving factor behind the adoption of the main structures which underpin globalization such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and emerging free trade networks connecting dozens of international economies. The Canadian Global Affairs Institute recognizes Canada’s contribution to a globalized world and aims to inform Canadians about Canada’s role in that process and the connection between globalization and security.

In all its activities the Institute is a charitable, non-partisan, non-advocacy organization that provides a platform for a variety of viewpoints. It is supported financially by the contributions of individuals, foundations, and corporations. Conclusions or opinions expressed in Institute publications and programs are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Institute staff, fellows, directors, advisors or any individuals or organizations that provide financial support to, or collaborate with, the Institute.


Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Cgai Staff
    published this page in Primers 2020-10-21 18:32:14 -0400

Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 2720, 700–9th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3V4


Calgary Office Phone: (587) 574-4757


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6


Ottawa Office Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: [email protected]


Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.


©2002-2024 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email