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The change in administration in the United States, from Donald Trump to Joseph Biden, provides an important opportunity to review the most pressing issues that are on – or should be on – the bilateral agenda. The 117th Congress is closely divided with Democrats in control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, but by narrow margins. Confirmation of the Biden administration’s cabinet, senior officials, and a new ambassador to Canada are likely to take longer than Biden or Canadian officials would prefer.

The 2020 election in the United States saw very little comment or debate about Canada or bilateral issues by candidates of either party. Yet the election did feature a robust discussion of issues that are important to both countries: the COVID-19 pandemic response, the need to revive the economy, and implementation of the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA).

This report is a compilation of commentary by the scholars and fellows affiliated with the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on the bilateral agenda in 2021. It is not a consensus report; not all of the contributors would agree with what others have written, and in some cases the authors are writing in their area of specialization unfamiliar to the rest. We publish this report aware that not ever issue is, or could be, addressed here. Indeed, as 2021 unfolds it is likely that certain issues will emerge and dominate the bilateral relationship between the United States and Canada that were not included in these pages.

Nonetheless the report provides a snapshot of the issues that concern our experts that we hope will prompt your thinking and robust debate in both countries about the future of this important relationship. If something here moves you to comment, we would love to hear from you. You can reach us by email at

Christopher Sands, Director, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center

Table of Contents
    • Day 1 for the Next U.S. Ambassador in Ottawa by James Dickmeyer
    • Restoring confidence in political institutions and bilateral relations on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border by Frédérick Gagnon
    • Post-Election Pandemic-era Pragmatism by Deanna Horton
    • The not bad, the bad, and the ugly –  A forward look at the 2021 Bi-national relationship by Nik Nanos
    • Time to Press A North American Agenda: Can Canada Lead? by Alan Bersin
    • Governments should focus on putting some real horse(power) under the beautiful, new USMCA/CUSMA/T-MEX ‘saddle’ by Roy Norton
    • Canada-U.S. Cooperation on Secure 5G Networks by Eric Miller
    • Canada’s top priority: securing the release of the two Michaels by Darren Touch
    • Critical Minerals Cooperationby Christopher Sands
    • Homeland defense and the importance of allies like Canada by Andrea Charron
    • U.S.-Canada Arctic Collaboration: Research, Security, and Environmental Considerations by Randy “Church” Kee
    • The Future Prospects for KXL and Hydrogen by Rona Ambrose
    • The Biden-Harris Administration and the Binational Great Lakes Basin: Possibilities for Action by Kathryn Bryk Friedman
    • Revisiting the U.S.-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue by Lisa Raitt
    • Revitalizing the U.S.-Canada Immigration Relationship by Richard Sanders
    • The Western Hemisphere Migration Crisis by Kathryn Bryk Friedman
    • The Public Health Component of Border Policy by Laurie Trautman
    • Resolving the Border’s Permanent State of Indefinite Measures by Mitch Davidson
    • Bilateral Issue: Canada-U.S. Food Supply Continuity Plan by Robert Carberry
    • Fiscal challenges in the wake of the Pandemic by Jim Haley
    • The Future of the North American Auto Industry by Paul Yeung
    • Canada-U.S. Regulatory Partnership by Robert Carberry

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Canada Institute

Bound by common geopolitical interests and strong economic and cultural ties, Canada and the United States enjoy the world's most successful bilateral relationship. The Wilson Center's Canada Institute is the only public policy forum in the world dedicated to the full spectrum of Canada-U.S. issues. The Canada Institute is a global leader for policymakers, academics and business leaders to engage in non-partisan, informed dialogue about the current and future state of the relationship.     Read more