What — and who — Canada should be watching in Washington

Ahead of the launch of POLITICO Pro Canada next month, executive director Luiza Ch. Savage and reporter Lauren Gardner lay out the cross-border stories their team will be focusing on, from NAFTA to cybersecurity to marijuana.  

By: , /
August 23, 2018
Storm clouds swirl over the US Capitol building in Washington, U.S., July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The very foundations of the Canada-US economic relationship — worth more than $600 billion per year — are shifting. On a daily basis, the Trump administration is remaking trade policy, unravelling regulations in areas like energy and the environment, and rewriting the tax code in ways that are changing the competitive landscape for cross-border businesses and forcing Canadian policymakers to respond. Washington’s new approach to foreign policy is testing traditional security alliances. Meanwhile, November’s midterm elections will reshape the House and Senate with important implications for cross-border interests — including the fate of trade pacts.

As the leading global news organization specializing in policy and politics, POLITICO recognizes how much is at stake for Canada and Canadian decision-makers. That’s why next month we are launching POLITICO Pro Canada — a cross-border policy intelligence service for professionals in government and the private sector with a stake in the Canada-US relationship. This subscription-based service — including a daily newsletter, real-time updates, briefings and tools — will give professionals the kind of precise and reliable information they need to do their jobs in this high-stakes moment.

Our team of Canada-focused reporters will work with our deeply-sourced newsroom of 200+ policy and politics journalists to create a tailored service for Canadian subscribers that will go beyond the headlines and the tweets in Washington and state capitals.

Here are some of the top issues we’ll watch in the White House and US Congress — as well as across government departments, regulatory agencies and state capitals.

1. Trade and agriculture

NAFTA. The key question is whether the countries can reach a détente soon on the trade front and whether Canada, in order to keep the peace, will be required to make significant changes to policies on dairy, procurement, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and intellectual property. We’ll track the undulating power dynamics among key White House aides: Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, a seasoned and pragmatic negotiator; Peter Navarro, the president’s director of trade and industrial policy, a hard-liner who sees trade as a matter of national security; Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, and Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, two long-time Wall Street hands with the business community’s ear. If an agreement comes together on NAFTA 2.0, the action will move to Capitol Hill, where the process of getting a deal through Congress could potentially prove lengthy and challenging.

2. Midterm elections

On Nov. 6, American politics is poised for an overhaul. Dozens of members of Congress are set to be replaced, with many retiring and others facing uncertain re-election prospects. Included in this potential wave are state legislatures, powerful committees and possibly one or both chambers of the US Congress. We will scour the electoral battlefield for implications on Canadian issues, introducing readers to the new players and their positions on cross-border issues. If Democrats take the House, a key question will be whether they allow a trade deal to come to the floor for a vote, or whether they move to deny the president a “win.” And will any Republican lawmakers take up the pro-trade banner carried by departing senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker? We’ll be watching Rep. Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate majority whip. 

3. Tax policy and competitiveness

The Trudeau government will unveil a new competitiveness plan this fall under pressure to respond to the 2017 US tax code overhaul. We’ll track how US agencies like the IRS are implementing the new law and examine the effect on Canadian businesses and individuals who must grapple with new tax bills — and compete with an economic behemoth of a neighbour that now has a lower corporate tax rate. 

4. Marijuana

Canada will become the first major industrialized country to legalize marijuana at the federal level on Oct. 17. While several US states also have legalized cannabis to varying degrees, the federal government has not. We’ll track how the US federal government responds to Canada’s move, and what the politics of pot at the federal and state levels means for Canadian and multinational companies, for cross-border trade and travel, and for investors. And we’ll monitor for state-level policies that could impact the future of Canada’s cannabis industry.

5. Border management and immigration

From skilled worker visas to work permits for agricultural workers, Canada has a stake in the latest immigration gyrations by the Trump administration and the US Congress. We’ll be covering those issues, plus how the administration’s immigration policies affect migration to Canada. Meanwhile, as border management gets more high-tech, we’ll be digging into every innovation, from facial recognition software for truck drivers to progress toward a fully biometric airport experience — and how new US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan is managing it all. And we’ll monitor how the US government plans to staff and manage the Gordie Howe International Bridge as this huge new commercial border crossing moves closer to reality.

6. Energy and environment

Cross-border energy and environmental debates have faded from the newspapers since NAFTA supplanted the Keystone pipeline as the top bilateral irritant, but a pair of Canadian pipeline projects continues to face challenges in the US. Meanwhile, we’ll track how the Trump administration is relaxing environmental regulations for pipelines and auto emissions, and how Canadian regulators and automakers respond in industries that are highly integrated across the continent. We’ll also track moves on renewable energy such as wind, solar and hydro, at the federal level and in key states.

7. Technology and cybersecurity

After releasing a cybersecurity strategy this spring, the Canadian government launched consultations for a separate data-management policy. It’s part of a broader international conversation about how to defend against digital crimes, election-meddling and identity theft, and the stakes are especially high as Canada emerges as a player in artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies. From resiliency of the integrated electrical grid, to privacy concerns, to the push for “smart cities” and the standing up of US Cyber Command, we’ll cover the cross-border implications of the American technology policy scene.

8. Regulation

While moving aggressively to roll back the American regulatory state, the Trump administration has also agreed to breathe new life into the Regulatory Cooperation Council, a bi-national effort to harmonize regulations on everything from refrigerators to the SPF protections in lipstick. We’ll be following specific developments related to individual products, as well as broader developments and trends in the process.

9. Defence and alliances

The sprawling Canada-US military relationship features countless points of contact, from NATO to NORAD and the emergence of a new private-sector-heavy space age. We’ll follow the debates over military policy — like spending levels, material purchases, radar refurbishment and missile defence — as well as tactical discussions. We’ll also focus on how Canada’s standing in these alliances shifts throughout the Trump administration.

10. Government procurement

A controversial US dollar-for-dollar procurement proposal signaled the first major rift in the NAFTA negotiation and remains a key issue at the negotiating table. But it’s also an irritant at the state and provincial level. When New York required home-made steel for infrastructure projects, Ontario retaliated in kind. We will not only track the national discussion but also systematically monitor for “Buy American” measures across state legislatures. 

For more information about POLITICO Pro Canada, please visit: www.politicopro.com/Canada