The most remarkable thing about Tuesday’s mini-summit between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden may be how just unremarkable it will be.
Trudeau, Biden, and key members of each leader’s cabinets will meet virtually, beginning at about 4 pm ET.
The 90-minute long confab will have little drama. It is unlikely to result in any major new announcements. Though there will be some disagreements, the meeting will be cordial, respectful, possibly even friendly. Set against the history of Canada-U.S. relations since the Second World War, Tuesday’s meeting will an entirely normal affair — possibly even dull.
The last four years of Canada-U.S. relations are what makes this first official bilateral meeting for the new U.S. president so remarkable.
The just-retired administration of Donald Trump was all about the man himself. The concept of government-by-cabinet was not his style. If work got done by cabinet-level members of his administration, it was often despite Trump not because of him.
Things will be different under Biden. During Tuesday’s meeting, the leaders will take the appropriate high-level approach to find common objectives on defence, climate change, the world’s approach to China, the economy, and fighting COVID-19. The cabinet members present on each side will take their cues from their leaders and, once the meeting concludes, will get to the nitty-gritty of work on those files.
So, for example, the two leaders may agree that quickly adopting zero-emission vehicles would be good for the North American economy and would help the climate change objectives of both countries. Then expect Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to follow up with his U.S. counterpart Pete Buttigieg — both men are expected to participate in Tuesday’s meeting — to get to work on the harmonization of cross-border regulations that can help spur innovation by North America’s integrated auto industry.
For the Biden administration, the meeting with the Canadians also sends an important message to all of America’s allies. The U.S., after four years of Trump-tainted tempestuous relations with its best friends, is returning to traditional diplomatic norms and that starts with Canada, American’s single-biggest trading partner.
Allies may also be keen to see how the Canadian side might be able to modify Biden’s “Buy America” program, the program Biden insists he will proceed with that will limit federal contracts on infrastructure and economic recovery to U.S.-only firms. The Canadian side might be expected to point Biden to the example of 2008-09, when then-prime minister Stephen Harper had to carve out some modifications from a “Buy America” program that Barack Obama was pushing. Obama’s vice-president at the time, of course, was none other than Joe Biden.
But should we expect some grand announcement at the conclusion of Tuesday’s mini-summit about “Buy America” or any other issue? No. Leaders will say nice things about each other, about the importance of the long friendship between the two countries, and the value of international co-operation.
All boring. All normal. And, given the last four years in the White House, all entirely remarkable.
David Akin is the Chief Political Correspondent for Global News.