Justin Trudeau Gets Call From Biden as Canada and U.S. Mend Relations
TORONTO — We’re friends again!
That was the prevailing mood in Canada this week after the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
After four years of being insulted, threatened, dismissed and slapped by the Trump administration, shellshocked Canadians felt the once-familiar warmth of their neighbor and closest ally, the United States. Of all the world leaders with whom Mr. Biden has to kiss and make up, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was the first to get an official phone call, on Friday evening.
During the call, which lasted more than 30 minutes, the leaders agreed to meet next month “to advance the important work of renewing the deep and enduring friendship between Canada and the United States,” according to a summary released by Mr. Trudeau’s office.
“We have so much alignment — not just me and President Biden, but Canadians and President Biden,” Mr. Trudeau said earlier Friday, in a news conference outside his home. “Talk again soon, Joe,” he said on Twitter after the call.
The profound sense of relief that the American election evoked across Canada was further deepened by Mr. Biden’s inaugural speech, in which he promised to repair alliances and engage with the world not through force, but partnership.
But, as is often the case with make-ups, it will take some time to rebuild trust and resolve differences between the two countries. And the United States is a very different place than it was four years ago: deeply divided, sick and weakened by the coronavirus, with an economic outlook adopted by Mr. Biden that emphasizes American jobs.
It also didn’t help that one of his first moves was to cancel the Keystone XL — a proposed pipeline meant to carry crude oil from Alberta to Nebraska that the Canadian oil industry hoped would revive its sinking fortunes.
“It was not a friendly first act,” said Roland Paris, a professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa, and a former foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trudeau. But, he added, “Just knowing the occupant of the White House will treat Canada as a respected friend makes a huge difference.”
Canada has long considered itself a close cousin to the United States. The two countries share a similar colonial history, immigrant population, defense network, economic supply chains and culture. Two-thirds of Canada’s sparse population live within 60 miles of the American border, and, before the pandemic, crossed it regularly to shop and visit family.
“We’ve forged a bond that is beyond practical,” said Allan Rock, a former longtime minister in the Canadian government. “It borders on mystical.”
Historically, the Canadian prime minister has received if not the first, then among the first foreign visits by a new American president. But, since the coronavirus has made such visits difficult, the first phone call should be seen as a stand-in, said Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada. “It’s definitely a big deal,” he said from his home in Chicago. “To get the first call is a recognition of the importance of the relationship.”
As with any family, there have been disagreements, and Canadians have often felt overlooked by their much larger neighbor. But in modern history, nothing has approached the blowups instigated by former President Donald J. Trump.
He slapped tariffs on Canadian products, threatened to rip up the country’s most important trade deal and insulted Mr. Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak.” His trade adviser Peter Navarro went further, suggesting “there’s a special place in hell” for Canada’s prime minister.
Few Canadians were sad to see the Trump administration go.
“There is actually a special place in hell for Trump,” said Gary Doer, a former Canadian ambassador to Washington and Manitoba premier.
Mr. Doer is among the many Canadians who expect the return of that once-special relationship under a Biden administration. Some even envision Canada helping the United States mend other relationships.
But the pictures of a mob breaking into the Capitol on Jan. 6, and the deep and ugly divisions it revealed in the United States, is a source of worry for many.
If America’s “rift becomes more rancorous and deeper, then we are in trouble,” said Kathleen Wynne, the first female and openly gay premier of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. Far-right activists have been emboldened in Canada too, she noted, recalling being followed and harassed by “very, very hard core right-wing angry men” during her 2018 re-election campaign, which she lost.
“We need to see that dissipate in the United States,” she said. “That’s Biden’s first order of business. To take a breath, and not preach to people, but try to figure out how to weave back the social fabric” of the country.
She added, “It’s a huge task.”
Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Biden have a warm history. The prime minister was host at a farewell state dinner for the then outgoing vice president four years ago, after Mr. Trump’s victory. Mr. Biden gave a speech then, during which he said it was up to Canada to be the defending champion of the “liberal international order.” He ended with a toast: “Vive le Canada. Because we need you very, very badly.”
Both leaders have made combating climate change, defending human rights and strengthening international institutions central to their platforms. They built their political personas on inclusivity and social justice — although at 49, Mr. Trudeau is a generation younger than Mr. Biden.
Mr. Rock, who also served as Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, said he hoped Mr. Trudeau would offer his assistance to Mr. Biden, in rebuilding American relationships around the world. “Their first conversation, I hope includes the words, ‘How can we help?’” Mr. Rock said. “We aren’t the ones who behaved as Mr. Trump did. We have reasonable currency in the capitals of the world.”
Some in the country worried Mr. Biden’s proposed protectionist economic policies could damage the Canadian economy so intrinsically dependent on the United States. But, even Conservative Canadian politicians anticipate a renewed and strengthened relationship.
The premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, who called the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline a “gut punch,” welcomed the new administration, adding that his province had “the deepest economic ties to the United States and strong social connections that go back well over a century.”
When inevitable disagreements arise with the Biden administration, most Canadian politicians expect a return to rational and respectful discourse, which after years of dodging grenade attacks over Twitter, would seem a balm.
“I can’t wait to go back to Washington, DC to work with the new Administration and Congress on our common interests,” tweeted Flavio Volpe, the president of the Auto Parts Manufacturers Association, who spent four years working with the Canadian government to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
He added: “Happy New Beginnings, America.”
Dan Bilefsky contributed reporting from Montreal and Ian Austen from Ottawa.