Monique Smith: Joe Biden’s bold first 100 days—and what it means for Canada

The shape of the cabinet and Biden’s senior staff holds some promise for a positive working relationship with the Trudeau government

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      For nearly 100 years, American presidents have been judged on their performance in their first 100 days. Franklin D. Roosevelt started the tradition by addressing the nation in the depths of a worldwide depression in July 1933.

      Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States, took office at a similarly perilous time in U.S. history—in the wake of the January 6 riot at the Capitol and in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed more than 500,000 lives, infected millions, and is stretching the U.S. healthcare system and economy.

      But the pandemic has also created the right atmosphere for decisive action.

      Bolstered by the Democrats’ control of the Senate, the new President has committed to getting the pandemic under control and building America back better. On day one, he signed 12 executive orders and set the tone for a bold first 100 days.

      On day four, Biden tightened “Buy America” rules including closing loopholes and mandating closer scrutiny of government procurement measures, which will have implications for Canadians.

      Despite this, and the perennial challenge of trade disputes, Canada is well positioned to move in lockstep with the Biden administration on many major issues that are priorities for the Trudeau and Biden administrations.           

      For Canadians, the shape of the cabinet and Biden’s senior staff holds some promise for a positive working relationship.

      The new U.S. Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, was intimately involved in congressional deliberations of the USMCA (NAFTA 2) in her previous role. As the Secretary of Energy, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is likely to understand the integrated relationship of the Canada-U.S. power grid and the auto sector as well as North American supply chains and the emerging electric vehicle market. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, the former Governor of Rhode Island, is well versed on issues facing Canadian maritime provinces. And Tom Vilsack, Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture for eight years, comes to the post with incredible knowledge of agriculture issues on both sides of the border.

      Much has also been made of Biden’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon’s close ties with the Trudeau Liberals. She advised the party in 2015 as a paid consultant.

      On February 23, Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and their teams met virtually and outlined a “US-Canada Partnership Roadmap” which they described as “a blueprint for our whole of government relationship based on our shared values and commitment to work in partnership on areas of mutual concern such as the recovery from COVID-19 and global health security, efforts to combat climate change and shared priorities in defense and security”.

      Biden committed to administering 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days. He easily surpassed that with over 220 million Americans over the age of 16 receiving at least one vaccine shot. In a neighbourly gesture, Biden redirected AstraZeneca vaccines to Canada and Mexico even though they had yet to receive approval in the U.S. and acknowledging the need for the continent to reach herd immunity in order for Americans to be truly safe.

      Along with promoting vaccines and protection, Biden introduced his $1.9 trillion Recovery Plan which includes direct financial aid to millions of Americans and support for schools, production of PPE, as well as testing and tracing in the fight against COVID. One month later, the plan is being described as a home run as it garners massive public support despite the Republicans voting against it.

      In March, the Biden administration introduced investments in research and development, green technology and local infrastructure in its $2 trillion-plus Infrastructure Plan, while underlining the need for good paying jobs, supporting unionization and investing in low-income communities to address growing economic disparity in America.

      The focus on clean energy and greening the economy provides Canadians with opportunities to partner on research and development in carbon capture, energy storage, EV technology, and the electrical grid.

      While Buy America remains front and centre, the Trudeau government’s commitment to greening the economy, in place since it was first elected in 2015, seems to be on the same page as the new president on ensuring all Canadian have access to high-speed broadband and continuing to embrace electric vehicles, clean technology, carbon capture, and resilient infrastructure.

      In his Joint Address to Congress, Biden’s aggressive agenda continued with the introduction of the American Families Plan, which proposes spending over $1.8 trillion on supports for families including child tax credits, free education for 4- and 5-year olds and two years of college, paid sick leave, support for teachers, and regulated childcare.

      Racial conflict and the ever-increasing chasm between the haves and have-nots in American society remain troubling issues. Normalizing citizenship for Dreamers continues to hover as a challenge with thousands of unaccompanied minors making their way to the Mexico-U.S. border.

      China is another important issue for both Canada and the U.S.

      While the leaders addressed the issue in their bi-lateral online meeting in February—Biden was vocal on the issue of the “two Michaels”—both countries have their own issues with China and complete alignment may be elusive.

      Many have described Biden’s first 100 days as more progressive than expected. He is well aware that the first two years of his mandate is the window for action.

      Monique Smith is a former Ontario MPP and was Ontario’s first representative in Washington. She served as chair for the Ontario government’s Ontario-US Engagement Strategy and the Premier’s Committee on Ontario-U.S. Economic and Trade Relations under Kathleen Wynne.