Oil, agriculture, immigration: How the outcome of the U.S. election could affect Albertans
CALGARY -- The outcome of the US election will have an effect on Alberta. Premier Jason Kenney has pointed to the Keystone XL pipeline as his biggest concern vis-a -vis the outcome of the vote. President Donald Trump has said he will fully approve the pipeline if re-elected. Joe Biden has stated he is opposed to Keystone XL, and will move to halt construction.
Speaking to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce Monday Kenney wouldn’t commit to supporting one candidate over another.
“We'll work with whatever government Americans elect to advance our interests," Kenney said. "And we hope to do so in collaboration with the government of Canada.
“This goes to the heart of our single largest export industry" he added, "our hundred billion dollars of exports of Canadian crude to the United States every year. So whoever wins, our number one goal will be to protect that market access to the United States for energy products.”
Mount Royal University Political Scientist Duane Bratt agreed that Keystone is the biggest issue in the election issue affecting Alberta.
“We (Albertans) now own a $1.5 billion stake in the pipeline, but there is concern in the oil patch that a Joe Biden administration would reverse that permit or at the very least put in a series of regulations that might delay it or make it more expensive, “ said Bratt.
“So if you are an oil person and you’re only concerned with Keystone, you would be concerned by a Biden administration. “
Gary Mar served as Alberta’s envoy to Washington D.C. from 20007 to 2011. Today he is the president and CEO of the Canada West Foundation, which focuses on policies that shape Western Canada politically and economically. Mar is not worried about a Biden presidency, saying he thinks Biden’s opposition to the Keystone XL will soften if he takes office.
“I think that there are some circumstances that are changed between when the vice-president was in office four years ago and now. So for example, he can't rely on Venezuelan oil to provide heavy oil that's needed for the refineries in the US Gulf Coast. He can get that oil instead from Canada, from a friend and neighbor and ally.” said Mar.
“The other piece that's really important is that the trade unions that have really been strongly supportive of it. President Biden want sthat work from the pipeline construction to go ahead."
Mar also added that Biden policies about climate change, if enacted, would benefit Canada, and Alberta.
“Under a Biden administration, there may be changes with respect to things like carbon taxes, or taxation in general, that would help level the playing field and allow Canada to be more competitive vis-a-vis the United States," said Mar “They're not just our biggest trading partner. They're also our biggest competitor. And so if those types of pieces go into a Biden administration, it would be good for Canada.”
Stability and predictability
Mar said both candidates for president have protectionist leanings but believes the stability and predictability of a Biden administration would benefit Alberta.
“Whether it's a Trump administration or by the administration, in the last several months through both been campaigning on an ‘America first’ type of type of approach. The difference will be is how they accomplish that," he said. "In the case of Trump, I think he's been very transactional, but not very strategic. It's been hard to predict, whereas the Biden administration would look at ‘America first’, policies, it will be more comprehensive and more transparent. So it'll be easier for Canadians to navigate that."
Alberta’s agricultural industry has benefitted under the past four years of a Trump presidency, in large part because Trump’s ongoing trade war with China, which created an opportunity for Canadian farmers to sell into that market. That is changing quickly though after Trump inked a trade deal with China earlier this year.
Now Alberta farmers are at odds with the Trump administration over subsidies paid to American farmers.
“The biggest concern that we have with the U.S. administration, that's presently in place is the amount of subsidies that they're pouring in to their farmers domestically," said Tom Steves general manager of the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commission.
"They have something called the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program in place in the United States right now that will pour about $24 billion into the hands of U.S. farmers and ranchers this year," he added. "And that's a concern to us because it obviously has a big impact on the marketplace. The Trump administration has made a conscious decision to pour subsidies into the heartland states where they have a lot of support, which is a natural thing, but it does impact on our competitiveness in the international market."
Karen Spencer is the project coordinator at the Simpson Centre at the School of Public Policy. which focuses on agricultural and food innovation and education. Spencer echoes Mar’s belief that the stability of a Biden presidency would benefit Alberta’s agriculture community.
“When we look at what happened four years ago, I think we see an example of perhaps why why it does matter," she said. "We had the Transpacific Partnership, almost a done deal, and then the major player exited out of that discussion. The remaining countries quickly regrouped and redid that agreement."
"But it is again predictability, and those upsets mean that there is some ground lost and negotiating and in trade agreements that are going forward," said Spencer. “If we're able to more accurately predict things on our agricultural markets. Perhaps Biden has a little bit of an edge just on the predictability. We have no predictability on the weather and on floods and fires and drought. So let's give them one thing - the price and market that we can predict.”
One group that would benefit from a Trump win are those helping people immigrate to Canada. . Raj Sharma, a Calgary Immigration lawyer, said a Trump win would drive immigrants away from the Unites States, and many would choose Canada instead, but Sharma doesn’t think he’ll see many of the Americans who have proclaimed they’d move to this country if Trump is re-elected.
“I think it's a sort of something that people say, I think that there's very little serious intent behind it," he said. "Picking up and moving to another country is not as easy as going down to 7-11 to pick up a Slurpee.”
"Americans sort of just assume that Canada is this consolation prize, which is somewhat offensive to a Canadian like myself and other Canadians. I mean, there's individuals that come here, they work very, very hard and eventually obtain status here. So I think Americans take us a bit for granted.”
Sharma said some Americans who have tried to immigrate to Canada have been surprised at how difficult it actually is.
“Canada is not just something that you can just pick up, snap your fingers and decide (to immigrate to). A lot of the clients that call me are very, very surprised that they don't qualify, that they have to do English tests. And so we treat Americans the exact same as every other applicant. Americans don't have a special system to come into Canada.”
Bratt said despite concerns over oil and gas, immigration, and climate change policies a Biden presidency provides the best path for Alberta’s future success.
“I think a Biden election victory is still better for Canada despite those items. It would normalize the relationship. You wouldn’t have unilateral threats of steel tariffs, aluminum tariffs, the renegotiation of NAFTA, the ripping up of international agreements like Paris and Trans Pacific partnership, the attacks on organizations like WHO or NATO... all of those things are in Canada’s interests and so a Biden government would be a normal U.S. government compared to Trump," said Bratt. ”So even if you’re greatly worried about the pipeline, I think everything else trumps that pipeline decision.”