Canadian construction stakeholders welcomed the recent election of Joe Biden as the new U.S. president, highlighting the president-elect’s promises to step up the fight against the coronavirus and spend more on infrastructure as harbingers of potential economic recovery north and south of the border.
Canadian Construction Association president Mary Van Buren and Association of Consulting Engineering Companies – Canada president and CEO John Gamble both said they anticipated improved intergovernmental relations in a Biden administration but were wary of Biden’s Buy American tendencies.
The former vice-president was declared president-elect Nov. 7, four days after the election.
“One of the issues that always concerns us is investor confidence and consumer confidence. So now we have certainty on who the president will be for the next four years and it has removed a large piece of uncertainty so that’s a good thing,” said Van Buren. “That said, we will have to wait and see what kind of business climate he will create. His messages of collaboration, unity and inclusivity, these all resonate strongly with our industry.”
Gamble commented, “I think there will be more clarity on where the U.S. administration stands on cross-border trade and also the reality is COVID has had a dramatic impact on the normal conduct of business and of course the U.S. has had a disproportion problem with COVID. If the Biden administration can take steps that mitigate the impact of COVID on the U.S. people and by extension the U.S. economy, that would certainly be helpful to business between Canada and the U.S.”
Gamble noted that historically the Democratic party has been the more protectionist of the parties, but for the past four years it has been the Trump administration that was skeptical of trade agreements.
“We are going to take a wait-and-see attitude, but our hope is that there will be some normalization of the work that goes on between our firms that work on both sides of the border,” he said.
“We hope that Mr. Biden will be a strong free-trade champion, but he has made Buy American part of his campaign platform,” said Van Buren. “We understand that our prime minister and the president-elect have a positive working relationship so that is important for the stability we need between our two countries which have been such important allies.”
On infrastructure, Van Buren noted that Biden has promised trillions of dollars in spending but the question was the same in the U.S. as in Canada — how soon will a stimulus package be rolled out and what strings might be attached.
Gamble said, “We have a number of firms whose economic health is tied to their U.S. operations so if we can see some progress on U.S. stimulus particularly on infrastructure and engineering-related investments, that would certainly we welcomed.”
The engineering sector will be watching to see how aggressive Biden is on climate change policy, Gamble said, because swift policy transformation would hurt some of their clients including engineers involved with projects like the Keystone pipeline, which Biden has talked about cancelling.
He said engineers accept that they have to be smarter and create less carbon, “but until such time as we can transition away from carbon-based energy, we need to do smart engineering and smart policy in the interim. We will be watching closely if that pendulum swings too far to the other side.”
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