Millions of Canadians closely followed the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, finally leading up to networks declaring former Vice President Joe Biden as President-elect on Saturday, November 7—almost four days following election day.
In the process, Canadians became ever more familiar with not just the nuances of the U.S. Electoral College, but also the multiple counties within key battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. And of course, all of it was fueled by real-time updates—via sophisticated data modeling, social media, and even “magic” election walls—provided by the likes of CNN’s John King and NBC’s Steve Kornacki.
The President-elect’s transition process has officially commenced in earnest. And north of the border, Canadian businesses in all sectors have started to assess what a Biden presidency will mean for Canada-U.S. relations and our trade relationship, especially in key sectors such as energy, agriculture, and manufacturing.
Meanwhile, pundits and experts on both sides of the border have already started the assessment process.
It is worth highlighting that—for multiple months—the federal government has been preparing for two scenarios, with a third key “X factor”:
- The re-election of President Trump, and the implications of another 4-year term for Canada-U.S. relations
- A win by Mr. Biden, and the related shifts around major bilateral policy and economic issues
- The implications of the final House and Senate tallies on the Canada-U.S. relationship, and the dynamic with a red or blue White House moving into 2021
The bottom line: significant analysis and planning have been done, and businesses should actively seek clarity on precisely how a Biden White House will now chart a new relationship with Canada.
At NATIONAL, we recommend going beyond the standard assumptions around what a Biden presidency will mean for Canada. Businesses with economic decisions hanging in the balance should undertake some detailed homework.
There is no more important political, economic, and strategic relationship than our interdependent, ever-evolving dynamic with the United States. To this end, Canadian business leaders and governments alike across the country will be keeping an incredibly close eye on potential Biden White House senior staff selections; the new transition team assisting the President-elect; prospective new U.S. cabinet members; diplomatic appointments to Canada and elsewhere; and the roll-out of the critical “first 100 days” of Mr. Biden’s tenure.
Yet precisely how, what, and when the new Biden White House will tackle the transition fundamentally matters to the bottom line of thousands of Canadian companies. The related political analysis is fundamental.
So too, however, is how Canadian businesses can prepare accordingly with Canadian decision makers, both in Ottawa and in provincial capitals, on key priorities moving into 2021.
The Canada-U.S. relationship is incredibly complex. The integration of sectors across both sides of the border is deep across the 49th parallel. Accordingly, clients should assess the following considerations when deciphering how their files will be impacted:
Canadian companies cannot merely turn to one particular area of the federal government—Global Affairs Canada, for example—for feedback or clarity. There is no straight line on decisions. Businesses can’t rely solely on one department. They must look at multiple departments and their specific roles in areas such as foreign investment, economic policy or program funding. Any successful strategy should include engagement with Canadian central agencies such as Finance Canada and the Privy Council Office (the Prime Minister’s department)—the proverbial “centre” of government must be understood—along with senior political staff.
Assess provincial links and interests
While the federal Ottawa-Washington, D.C., dynamic needs to be understood on every issue, it is critical to calculate how key provincial governments can impact decisions. Key provincial leaders such as Premiers Horgan, Kenney, Ford and Legault, for example, have intergovernmental advisors and teams assessing their specific interests. And some have provincial representatives in Canada’s embassy in Washington and Canadian Consulates General in major cities. Adding a “confederation lens” to your priorities, therefore, can help to navigate cross-border waters.
Engage Canada’s officials
Canada is fortunate to have one of the top cadre of diplomats and foreign affairs representatives, both home and abroad. Our Global Affairs team is respected around the world, including our embassy staff in Washington, Consul Generals in U.S. cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, and San Francisco, and our senior officials in the North American Bureau of Global Affairs. More importantly, their subject matter and sectoral knowledge can be critical in understanding how your business objectives can be addressed. Engage them.
Look for allies south of the border
Canada and the U.S. often have more in common than not. We share the longest undefended border in the world and deep commercial ties. Our border is often the nexus point for “just in time” economic activity, such as the Detroit-Windsor corridor regarding car manufacturing. What affects one nation affects the other. So when Canadian businesses want to move the dial on policy in Washington, it’s not only critical—but also possible—to find American allies that also have a stake in the game. From agriculture, oil and gas, to clean tech and manufacturing, cross-border allies can make all the difference. Look to key U.S. voices—such as major trade or commerce associations—with shared interests. Such alignment can move the needle.
Assume a bilateral “180” shift—and soon
President-elect Biden will undoubtedly be looking to fundamentally shift away from many of President Trump’s moves on the global stage, largely through an expedited method not requiring Senate approval (e.g. Executive Orders). Rejoining the Paris Agreement, and re-engaging with the WHO, are two such examples. Yet, companies who are seeking decisions with economic implications on one or both sides of the border will need to truly understand how bilateral approaches to specific trade, economic and environmental issues will net out.
President-elect Biden’s transition will not be easy in the coming weeks, particularly given the legal pushback from President Trump regarding (unfounded) allegations of voter integrity and the like. But he will eventually be able to aggressively move forward on some of his immediate priorities, including the United States’ COVID-19 response, climate change, healthcare, and economic stimulus.
Canada’s relationship with the United States—and the United States’ relationship with the world—fundamentally shapes political and economic decisions made throughout our country. NATIONAL’s team of pan-Canadian public affairs and Capital Markets experts—working with our partner firms in the U.S. SHIFT and Padilla—are well positioned to provide targeted advice and help you go beyond the assumptions as the President-elect moves to put his own stamp on Canada-U.S. relations.
Gordon Taylor Lee is managing partner of NATIONAL Public Relations’ Ottawa office. He was formerly an official within Global Affairs Canada’s North American Bureau and Canada’s Consulate General in Seattle.