5 ways a Joe Biden presidency will affect Canada

The fallout from the U.S. presidential election touches countries around the world — starting with its neighbours next door. And on some issues with clear implications for Canada, Joe Biden will be different from Donald Trump.

Biden has different ideas about trade, defence, China, energy and migration

There were striking differences between the candidates in the U.S. presidential election. Donald Trump, left, promised more oil drilling, more pipelines — and less regulation. Joe Biden, right, who was announced as president-elect on Nov. 7, has said he would cancel Trump's permit for the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada. (Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)

The fallout from the U.S. presidential election touches countries around the world — starting with its neighbours next door. Joe Biden's election as U.S. president has numerous potential implications for Canada.

He has different ideas about trade, defence, China, climate change, energy and immigration from Donald Trump, whom he'll replace on Jan. 20, 2021.

Here are five examples of how their presidencies will differ.

Energy and the environment

Biden says he'd cancel the Keystone XL pipeline and invest massively in clean energy. Construction is just barely underway on the pipeline, which would carry a sizeable fraction of Canada's oil exports to the U.S. (Alex Panetta/The Canadian Press)

There were striking differences between the candidates. Trump promised more oil drilling, more pipelines — and less regulation. Biden, on the other hand, said he'd cancel Trump's permit for the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.

Biden wants to invest massively in clean energy; rejoin the Paris Accord; and, finally, name, shame and potentially punish countries with green tariffs if they fail to cut emissions. He can do several of these things by executive order.

The big investment in clean energy, however, would require an infrastructure deal getting through Congress — and that would be more challenging if Republicans, as expected, continue to hold the Senate. 

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International trade

Canadian and American flags fly near the Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge, a major trade link between the two countries. (Rob Gurdebeke/The Canadian Press)

Some irritants will remain even under Biden. For instance, Biden promises more Buy American policies, and perennial disputes like softwood lumber would not disappear.

But Biden says he'd drop some of Trump's most aggressive moves against allies, like the steel and aluminum tariffs based on alleged national-security grounds. He has also hinted he might, eventually, try negotiating U.S. re-entry into the pan-Pacific trade pact now known as CPTPP. Don't expect that new trade deal to be an early priority.

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Controllers aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in Virginia await instructions from NORAD on Sept. 12, 2001. (Corey Lewis/Reuters)

Canadian defence policy has long rested on the assumption of an unshakeable partnership with the United States. Yet old alliances have recently seemed less sturdy.

Trump has rattled old assumptions, repeatedly criticizing NATO allies for under-spending on their military. Some defence analysts, and a top former aide to Trump, feared he might withdraw from NATO in a second term. That uncertainty lingered over a deployment of Canadian troops in Eastern Europe.

Biden is a staunch NATO advocate, and under his watch, Canada could face a different challenge: conversations about NATO's future role and missions. One major issue continues to hover over the continent: whether Canada will wind up spending billions to install new radar over the Arctic.


Significant tension between China and the U.S. will persist whoever is president - and Canadians have witnessed the spillover effect that could have. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

When the globe's two superpowers clash, Canada risks getting sideswiped. Just ask the Canadians in Chinese jail cells and the canola, pork and beef farmers punished by Beijing after Canada executed a U.S. arrest warrant against a high-profile Chinese telecom exec.

China-U.S. tensions now loom over myriad global issues: Trump withdrew from the World Health Organization, partially paralyzed the World Trade Organization, part of China-U.S. disputes that touched agriculture, educational exchanges, journalism, new technologies and sanctioned goods. These issues aren't going away.

Biden, however, says he wants to approach things differently — for starters, by working more closely with allies.

He plans to host a summit of democracies to discuss ways governments and private-sector companies like banks and social media platforms might push back against global authoritarianism.

One thing Trump never clearly articulated — and it's something Biden would be pressed to offer — is a sense of the long-term goal: How does the U.S. intend to coexist with China?


Canada enjoyed a historic boom in skilled immigration and foreign students under Trump, as the president introduced a number of restrictions. 

That hardline approach would have continued in a second term, and in fact Trump recently announced a number of new clampdowns on a wide range of visas, including the popular H1-B program. He also sought to end the temporary humanitarian protection of thousands of migrants who face threats back home, and decrease the overall number of refugees who come to the U.S. 

Biden has said he would reverse Trump's H1-B visa freeze, review the decision to end humanitarian protection for migrants, repeal Trump's travel ban and increase the number of refugees coming into the U.S. to 125,000. All these policies could affect Canada, from the border, to corporate boardrooms looking to recruit foreign talent.

Biden's platform says he also wants to convene a meeting with Canada, Mexico, and other countries in the region to develop an international plan to deal with irregular migration and its root causes. Some analysts view that as a potential opening to renegotiate the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

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Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.