Canadian Manufacturing

After the election, should Ottawa be making a bigger fuss about Canada U.S. border?

Whether the federal Liberals want to spend some bilateral capital on the border issue is still to be seen.

September 22, 2021  The Canadian Press

With the federal election in the books and the United States clearly in no hurry to reopen the Canada-U.S. border, experts say the federal Liberal government should think about rebooting the way it deals with the country’s largest and most important trading partner.

President Joe Biden’s administration struck a dramatic contrast on Sept. 20 when it unveiled a significant retool of the rules governing international travel and COVID-19, while in the same breath punting a decision on its northern border for another 30 days.

There’s more going on there than the usual glacial pace of the world’s largest bureaucracy, said Edward Alden, a journalist, author and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Biden’s approach is very much, ‘Sure, we need to care about what happens in the rest of the world, but we need to look after Americans first,'” Alden said in an interview.

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The evidence is everywhere: prioritizing Americans during the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, a sharper edge to protectionist Buy American policies, explicitly borrowing Donald Trump’s vision for withdrawing from Afghanistan and the absence of any global trade ambitions.

The Canada-U.S. border earned nary a mention on Sept. 21 during national security hearings on Capitol Hill, where Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas, whose department is overseeing travel restrictions at the land borders, was one of the marquee witnesses.

Biden, bruised by an Afghanistan withdrawal that went horribly wrong, took the lectern on Sept. 21 at the United Nations General Assembly to deliver a sales pitch for what he described as “a new era of relentless diplomacy” around the world.

The speech touched on many of the themes Biden would punch in the days immediately after he took office, promising to restore America’s lustre on the world stage after four years of isolationism, instability and international contempt.

“Simply put, we stand in my view at an inflection point in history,” Biden told the assembled leaders. “Instead of continuing to fight the wars of the past, we are fixing our eyes on devoting our resources to the challenges that hold the keys to our collective future.”

Whether the federal Liberals want to spend some bilateral capital on the border issue is still to be seen, especially since air travel to the U.S. has continued unfettered, and trade shipments, essential workers and foreign students have been able to move between the two countries.

“If they do and it continues to be ignored or rebuffed or just not handled, then that will be a real problem,” said Scotty Greenwood, president and CEO of the D.C.-based Canadian American Business Council.

“It already is a real problem, from a practical sense, for people in businesses that are accustomed to transversing the border. Will it become a foreign policy problem on Canada-U.S. relations? That depends on the Canadian approach.”