Working with the Biden Administration: What We Need to Do.

AuthorRobertson, Colin
Position2021 Canada-U.S. Law Institute Distinguished Lecture

MARCH 10, 2021

Colin Robertson

Moderator: Chios Carmody

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR CHIOS CARMODY: Alright, well we might as well get underway. Good afternoon. For those of you I haven't met, my name is Chi Carmody, and I'm an associate professor here at Western's Faculty of Law. And since 2002, I've been the Canadian national director of the Canada-U.S. Law Institute.

The institute was founded in 1976 as a joint creation of Western Law and the Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio, to examine issues of relevance to the Canada-U.S. bilateral context. To that end, the institute sponsors a number of activities each year, including the Canada-U.S. Law Institute Annual Conference--the 45th edition of which is taking place online April 23, on the theme of "Climate Change and the Arctic: Profound Disruption, Uncertain Impact." And that will have free admission for students, so please stay tuned for that.

There is also publication of the Canada-U.S. Law Journal--which takes place once annually, and is put together by a binational panel of students on both sides of the border--and periodic Experts' Meetings, and Distinguished Lectures such as this, as well as our ever-popular Student Fora--the next two of which are going to be, first of all, on Tuesday, March 23 at 6:00 p.m. focusing on negligence in law enforcement and the differences between Canadian and U.S. law regarding the duty of care in law enforcement and, secondly, on Wednesday, March 24 at 5:00 p.m. discussing the treatment of cases challenging lockdown orders in Canada and the U.S. So, please join us for one or both of those. Details will be available shortly through the SLS Daily bulletin.

This, however, is the 14th Annual Canada-U.S. Law Institute Distinguished Lecture. And this year, our distinguished lecturer is Colin Robertson, who is vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and host of its regular The Global Exchange podcast.

Before assuming these positions, Colin worked as a diplomatic services officer with Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs--now Global Affairs Canada. And during his very varied foreign service career, he served as first head of the Advocacy Secretariat and minister at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, as consul general of Canada in Los Angeles, and consul of Canada in Hong Kong, and in New York at our Mission to the United Nations, and the Consulate General there. Colin was also a member of the teams that negotiated the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and the 1994 NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement].

Colin now writes on foreign affairs for the Globe and Mail, and is a frequent contributor to other media. And he'll be speaking today to us on the subject of, "Working with the Biden Administration: What We Need to Do."

Now, before he does that, I would like to convey a few thank yous. So, I'd like to, first of all, thank the Faculty of Law--particularly our dean, Erika Chamberlain, for her continuing support of this lecture. I'd like to also thank Susanna Eayrs, the faculty's communications officer, for liaising with Colin and helping to promote and publicize this event. And to Corey Meingarten, the faculty's systems administrator, who's ensuring a smooth broadcast and recording of the Distinguished Lecture today.

I'd also like to thank students of this year's Canada-U.S. Law Institute Student Committee--particularly Victoria Ostrovsky, David Yun, and Cole Halbert, who have helped to coordinate and assist with this Distinguished Lecture.

After Colin's Distinguished Lecture, there's going to be an opportunity for questions from the audience through Zoom. So, if anyone would like to send along questions during the lecture or thereafter, this would be appreciated. So, over to you, Colin.

MR. COLIN ROBERTSON: Well, thank you very much, Chi. And my thanks to you, and to Corey and Victoria, for making this going--especially Corey, who I know is going to make sure the slides and everything come through.

Over the years, I've learned a lot from the work of your binational law institute, especially when I've attended the sessions in Cleveland. I remember talking with the inimitable Henry King about the Nuremberg Trials, and [Sidney] Sid Picker about transborder environmental issues. As I say, it's an honor to speak at a forum that has also welcomed my friends Larry Herman, Chris Sands, Janice Stein, Bruce Heyman, and the man from whom I probably learned the most about dealing with the United States, the late Allan Gotlieb.

My remarks are going to come in three parts. First, the situational awareness of the Biden challenges. Then, mindful of the new Roadmap for Canada-U.S. relations, some rules of the road on getting it done. And I'll conclude on a cautionary note because, while diplomacy is inspired by idealism, it advances through pragmatism, rooted in realism.

I became familiar with the term "situational awareness" when I visited Pacific Command at Pearl Harbor when I was consul general in Los Angeles. Hawaii was part of my parish. Situational awareness means being aware of one's surroundings and identifying potential threats in dangerous situations. It is more of a mindset than a hard skill, but it's as vital for diplomats as it is for the military. To understand how we can advance Canadian interests, we first need situational awareness of Mr. Biden's America.

Say a prayer for Mr. Biden--he faces the most formidable set of challenges for any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt took power in 1932, when America was reeling under the Great Depression. In his inaugural address, Mr. Biden outlined the crisis facing America. First one, of course, is health. The pandemic death toll is awful, with over half a million dead. More Americans have died from CO VID than died during America's twentieth century wars. Biden is on track with his pledge of one hundred million vaccinations in one hundred days. In fact, there are, in some cases, three million vaccinations a day. He promises enough vaccines for everyone by the end of July.

Then there's the economic malaise caused by the pandemic, but also technological change and globalization. Jobless claims remain well above the worst levels of the Great Recession. At 100 percent debt-to-GDP, U.S. debt is higher than at any time in U. S. history, outside of World War II. By comparison, Canadian GDP debt is now about 50 percent. And in Ontario, it's about the same.

Americans, perhaps more than any other nation, believed they were an exceptional people, living in what Ronald Reagan once called "the city on [a] hill"--a new world where, if you work hard, you can succeed. But new polls tell us most Americans think their children will be worse off than themselves, for some reasons. The top 10 percent of Americans now own over 70 percent of the country's wealth. The top 1 percent controls more national income than the bottom 50 percent. Average income growth of the top 1 percent grows by 226 percent from 1979 to 2016, while working and middle-class income distribution was comparatively flat.

The economic turmoil continues to a larger social crisis complicated by race, gender, class, and culture. Racial injustice, the George Floyd trial is in today's news. But to give Black Lives Matter some wider context, if you're Black, you're twice as likely to die of COVID, and three times more likely to be hospitalized. Black unemployment rates are double those of Whites. Net worth for median Black households in the United States stands at $20,000, compared to $180,000 for Whites.

Then, of course, there's migration. The pressure on the southern border from those fleeing crime, corruption, and bad government--a movement that helped propel Trump to the White House on the promise of a wall to keep them out.

Then, of course, there's climate, including biodiversity and pollution, rising temperatures and freak weather, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, freezes, and floods of biblical proportions. According to NASA, 2012 was the hottest year on record, followed by 2019 and then 2020.

Biden must manage all these crises against a profound political divide that, like the social crisis, is compounded by race, religion, geography, and increasingly, class. The political divide is visceral, as we witnessed in both the election, which saw a 67 percent turnout--the most since 1900--and in the impeachments. Despite the attack on the Capitol, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell declaring that Trump was morally responsible, only seven Republican senators, not including McConnell, backed impeachment.

The Republican Party is still the Trump party, with half of Republicans believing that the election was, as Trump says, "stolen." A switch of 50,000 votes in three states and I'd be talking today about a second Trump administration.

Republican and Democratic voters not only disagree over plans and policies, but they also disagree on basic facts. The political challenge for Biden is not only interparty, but also intraparty, pitting the progressive wing--AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], who you see right behind Joe Manchin, and the AOC faction includes Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren--against the moderates--of course Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, and [Charles] Chuck Schumer. As Will Rogers once remarked, "I am not a member of any organized [political] party. I am a Democrat."

Biden has set himself three overriding priorities: to revive and sustain the middle class, to fix the environment, and to restore American leadership of the free world. He and his team believe the well-being--economic, environment, health, social--is the best antidote to populism, and the way to defend democracy. But it starts at home. As Biden put it, "We have to put ourselves in a position of strength to be able to deal with the challenges we face around the world," from the great power competition with China to nuclear proliferation with Iran and North Korea. [Quoted text should be...

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