GOLDSTEIN: A new hope? Biden says he’ll help free Canada’s two Michaels

Let’s hope U.S. President Joe Biden is sincere about his remarks following his virtual summit meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, that he will work to free Canada’s two Michaels, now unjustly imprisoned by China for more than 800 days.

Mentioning both Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor by name, Biden said “human beings are not bartering chips”, adding “you know we’re going to work together until we get their safe return.”

That’s significant because it is really only the U.S. that can break the deadlock between Canada and China on the fate of the two Michaels.

Canada was acting on an extradition request from the U.S. on Dec. 1, 2018 when it arrested Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver — who’s wanted in the U.S. on fraud charges, which she denies.

Shortly after that China imprisoned Kovrig and Spavor in retaliation — eventually charging them with spying — which Trudeau has rightly called hostage diplomacy.

While Meng’s extradition trial in Vancouver is proceeding at a glacial pace, the only way Canada’s two Michaels are going to be freed is if the U.S. works out a deal with China on Meng’s fate.

Whether Biden’s words will translate into meaningful action is the unanswered question.

On other issues, Biden and Trudeau said they are committed to resetting the relationship between Canada and the U.S. as allies and friends after the turbulent years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Rhetorically, they agree on climate change, with Biden rejoining the Paris climate agreement Trudeau signed in 2015 and that Trump scrapped, with both Biden and Trudeau having committed their respective countries to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The two men have also pledged to “build back better” in the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, with Biden’s rhetoric closely matching Trudeau’s about how it has been disproportionately harmful to minorities and women.

They also promised joint efforts on global security, strengthening the World Health Organization and NATO.

But neither leader talked about specific and ongoing challenges to the Canada-U.S. relationship.

Biden scrapped the Keystone XL pipeline that Trudeau publicly supported on his first day in office.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer now wants to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline in May, which would have a huge negative impact on Ontario and Quebec — costing thousands of direct and indirect jobs, increasing oil and natural gas prices, and triggering propane and jet fuel shortages.

Is Biden prepared to intervene on Canada’s behalf on that issue? We don’t know.

Also, no mention of whether Canada will receive an exemption from Biden’s “Buy American” policy which mirrors Trump’s, and which could disqualify Canadian companies from bidding on billions of dollars of U.S. government procurement contracts.

Finally, is Biden willing to help Canada secure more COVID-19 vaccines, given our dire shortages, by removing conditions set by Trump that vaccine manufacturers in the U.S. could not sell to Canada until America’s needs were met?

Biden and Trudeau were warm and cordial with each other — Biden describing Canada as America’s closest ally and friend and noting his first meeting with a foreign leader, albeit a virtual one, was with Trudeau.

But again, whether that will translate into policies that help Canada won’t be known for some time.

In the interim, it’s best to keep in mind that nations don’t have friends, they have interests, and Biden first and foremost is America’s president, not Canada’s pal.

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