Biden restores order with call to Canada’s Trudeau

Tension is high between the two countries due to the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline project

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on his administration’s response to the economic crisis in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Biden will mark his third day in office with executive actions to boost food assistance for impoverished Americans and use federal contracts as a step toward his proposed nationwide minimum-wage hike, seeking immediate help for an economy struggling to cope with Covid-19. Photographer: Ken Cedeno/CNP/Bloomberg
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US President Joe Biden has spoken with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his first foreign leader call.

It came amid heightened tension between the two countries after President Biden cancelled the Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that would carry Canadian crude oil to the US.

Mr Biden’s decision to cancel the pipeline has cost Canada more than 1,000 jobs and drawn the ire of some prominent Canadians.

"The leader of our closest ally retroactively vetoed approval for a pipeline that already exists and which is co-owned by a Canadian government, directly attacking by far the largest part of the Canada-US trade relationship, which is our energy industry and exports," said Jason Kenney, premier of Alberta, where the pipeline originates.

But Mr Biden made a point of calling Mr Trudeau first, something former president Donald Trump chose not to do four years ago.

“It reasserts tradition. So traditionally the president’s first visit abroad was either Canada or the UK, normally Canada, and Donald Trump went to Saudi Arabia and that was a huge break with the norm,” said Edward Alden, a US-Canada expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

Mr Trudeau and Mr Trump had a frosty and at times near hostile relationship.

Mr Trudeau drew the criticism of the former US president several times. Mr Trump tweeted that Canada’s leader was “dishonest and weak" after the G7 Summit in Quebec.

"The Canadians have felt really beaten up under Donald Trump, partly because of tariffs, the very difficult Nafta [North American Free Trade Agreement] negotiations and the Huawei extradition request that led to two Canadians being jailed in China," said Mr Alden.

"So, I think this is a signal by Biden that he’s going to put a high priority on the relationship with Canada.”

Friday’s phone call marked a return to norms for the two nations that share the longest undefended border in the world.

That border is currently closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, a subject the two leaders spoke at length about.

The US is the country that has been the most affected by the virus, with more than 400,000 deaths. Mr Biden has already instituted a number of measures to try to better handle the crisis.

The call with Mr Trudeau sends a message to other world leaders.

“What it does do is provide a kind of baseline," said Mr Alden.

'"What norms do in diplomacy is they say, 'these are the ways in which you can expect countries to behave, these are the ways in which you can expect the United States to behave and there will be deviations from it, but when there are deviations they are notable',” said Mr Alden.

Mr Biden's next world leader call will be President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico.