Paying Forward: Canada/United States Joint Statements

5 minute read

President Barack Obama’s new book “A Promised Land” provides a much-needed antidote to the rapid spiralling exit of President Donald Trump. In his interview with the CBC’s The Current, President Obama remarks on the Trump Presidency as a temporary ‘anomaly’ on the body politic in America.

However, the ‘anomaly’ will be a bumpy one. As President-elect Joe Biden prepares for Inauguration Day with the incumbent adding obstacles by the minute the Trudeau Government (along with its provincial, territorial and Indigenous partners) should be thinking back to 2015 to repay the favor that President Obama gave the then-new Canadian government of Justin Trudeau.

Rewind to that year. Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister with not much more than a year left in President Obama’s second term. At the time, President Obama was focussing on both his legacy and setting the conditions for his successor to maintain momentum, particularly in the areas of climate change, the green economy and less well known, strengthening the relationship with Native American communities. Meanwhile, the new Prime Minister was looking for opportunities to differentiate his government from that of outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper in many of the same policy areas.

The alignment of shared interests catapulted the leaders to sign the first of two Canada/US Joint Statements on “...a common vision of a prosperous and sustainable North American economy, and the opportunities afforded by advancing clean growth…” They emphasized and embraced “the special relationship between the two countries and their history of close collaboration on energy development, environmental protection, and Arctic leadership.” Both leaders cited the newly signed Paris Agreement as the “spark” that brought them together to establish a more continental approach to addressing climate change.

Nine short months later, in December 2016, the two leaders reported achievements by both countries under the first Joint Statement. The United Sates pointed to the fact that “…President Obama created the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area protecting the cultural and subsistence resources of over 80 tribes as well as one of the largest seasonal migrations of marine mammals in the world of bowhead and beluga whales, walrus, ice seals, and sea birds. The U.S. also launched an interagency Economic Development Assessment Team in the Nome region of Alaska to identify future investment opportunities, with other regions to follow. In addition, the Arctic Funders Collaborative (AFC), a group of eleven U.S., Canadian, and international philanthropic foundations, announced the coordination and mobilization of an estimated $27 million in resources for programs across the Arctic over the next three years.”

Meanwhile, in a parallel statement, Canada designated all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing, to be reviewed every 5 years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment. In addition, the Prime Minister committed to “…co-develop a new Arctic Policy Framework, with Northerners, Territorial and Provincial governments, and First Nations, Inuit, and Métis People that will replace Canada’s Northern Strategy. The Framework will focus on priority areas identified by the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs’ Special Representative, including education, infrastructure, and economic development. The Framework will include an Inuit-specific component, created in partnership with Inuit, as Inuit Nunangat comprises over a third of Canada’s land mass and over half of Canada’s coastline, and as Inuit modern treaties govern the entirety of this jurisdictional space. In parallel, Canada is reducing the reliance of Northern communities on diesel, by deploying energy efficiency and renewable power. Canada will also, with Indigenous and Northern partners, explore how to support and protect the future of the Arctic Ocean’s ‘last ice area’ where summer ice remains each year.”

The inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017 evaporated the American side of the Joint Statement. President Trump moved swiftly to end any trace of White House support for the Paris Agreement by reversing many of President Obama’s Executive Orders, including commitments under the Joint Statement. He also appointed a new head of the Environmental Protection Agency committed to dial back environmental regulations, removed references to climate change from all federal websites and opened up previously protected lands from oil and gas development. If you were a public servant scientist or policy analyst working on climate change you hid under your desk.

Meanwhile, on the Northern side of the border the Trudeau Government continued to advance its commitments under the Obama/Trudeau Joint Statement including reaching a deal with the provinces, territories, and three national Indigenous organizations on the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Some measures generated significant controversy for the still new government such as a new tax on carbon as well as the five-year ban on oil and gas exploration in Canadian Arctic waters.

President-elect Joe Biden has named both his Secretary of State nominee and John Kerry as his Climate Ambassador signaling the beginnings of his foreign policy agenda for his new Administration. Looking north, the new Administration has a willing and ready partner to renew and replace the last Democratic Administration’s commitments with a new and timely Biden/Trudeau Joint Statement to build a new promised land on both sides of the border.


By Stephen M. Van Dine, Senior Vice-President, Public Governance

Born in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Stephen spent his formative teen-age years finishing High School at Sir John Franklin Territorial High school in the Northwest Territories. He also began his career as a community planner with the City of Yellowknife and later with the Government of the Northwest Territories, Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. In 1997, he began working at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, in the Yellowknife Regional Office and transferred to the National Capital Region in 2002. Since then, Stephen has led a number of program, policy and legislative sustainable development initiatives with respect to northern governance, the arctic, the Devolution of Land and Resource Management Responsibilities in the Northwest Territories, the implementation and modification to the Nutrition North Canada program, co-drafting the Inuit Nunangat Declaration, overseeing the construction of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, as well as supporting the legislation to establish of Polar Knowledge Canada. More recently, Stephen has been working on a long-term asset sustainability strategy for Parks Canada Agency along with overseeing critical corporate functions with respect to Information Technology, Cabinet and Regulatory Business, Asset Management and Security.

Stephen has a degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Ryerson University and a Masters in Public Administration from Queen’s University. Stephen recently completed an Executive Certificate in Energy and the Environment from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Stephen is married and has two children with his wife Marie.

About the author

Institute on Governance

Institute on Governance

Founded in 1990, the Institute on Governance (IOG) is an independent, Canada-based, not-for-profit public interest institution with its head office in Ottawa and an office in Toronto. Our mission is ‘advancing better governance in the public interest,’ which we accomplish by exploring, developing and promoting the principles, standards and practices which underlie good governance in the public sphere, both in Canada and abroad.

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