WASHINGTON -- A majority of Canadians still see the United States as their country's closest ally, even in an age of American protectionism, a new poll suggests -- but with President Joe Biden poised to deliver his vision for the next two years, they seem less certain that their powerful neighbour is a force for good in the world.

Nearly 70 per cent of respondents to the online survey, conducted by Leger for the Association for Canadian Studies, said they still see the U.S. as Canada's best friend, while 16 per cent said they disagreed and 15 per cent said they didn't know.

Those surveyed were much more divided, however, on the question of whether the U.S. is a positive influence on international affairs: 41 per cent disagreed with that statement, compared with 38 per cent who said they believe it's true. Twenty-one per cent abstained.

Tuesday night, Biden will deliver his second state of the union speech since being sworn in as president in 2021 -- and many in Canada are hoping to hear a softer, more conciliatory tone on the protectionist rhetoric that marked his first two years in the White House.

  • Watch U.S. President Joe Biden's State of the Union Address at 9 p.m. ET on CTVNews.ca

But with the speech expected to serve as a soft launch of sorts for the 2024 presidential race, they may be disappointed.

"The president will announce in the state of the union that he is issuing proposed guidance to ensure construction materials from copper and aluminum to fibre optic cable, lumber and drywall are made in America," the White House said in a statement.

The so-called "Buy America" laws that have been on the books for decades in the U.S. focus mainly on iron and steel for federally funded projects -- a "giant loophole" the Biden administration is determined to close, "once and for all, so materials … are made in America and support American jobs."

The rules would extend beyond roads and bridges to include buildings, water systems and high-speed internet, "providing consistency for companies and state and local governments to apply the standards and a strong federal government-wide demand signal."

A separate law, the Buy American Act, will soon require that 75 per cent of component parts for projects procured by the federal government be made in the U.S., up from the original threshold of 55 per cent.

With all eyes again shifting toward the coming race for the White House, Biden's protectionist rhetoric is likely aimed mostly at winning over a domestic political audience, and most observers agree that it's not Canada but Beijing that the U.S. has in its sights.

And with the country up in arms over what Chinese officials insist was a weather balloon that drifted through Canadian and U.S. airspace last week, downed over the weekend by U.S. jet fighters, the president has ample reason to argue for economic decoupling from China.

But it would be a mistake to assume that the U.S. will automatically turn to Canada for its energy, raw materials and manufactured goods, said Flavio Volpe, president of Canada's Auto Parts Manufacturers Association.

"Canada will do well to not assume that we are inside the tent. We will have to prove and reprove ourselves on many points we take for granted," Volpe said.

"Look for transactional language to begin dominating our relationship rather than ideology. Shared values matter, but sharing value matters more."

The president has been moving off the "inward focus" that marked the first two years of his presidency, said Louise Blais, a retired Canadian envoy who now serves as a senior adviser to the Business Council of Canada and as diplomat-in-residence at Laval University in Quebec.

"Starting this year, actually, there's been a real shift in the narrative that he has been using when he casts the issues related to economic security and supply chains," Blais said.

"After two tough years we're now starting to see a different approach -- at least rhetorically. He is talking about the importance of working with America's continental allies."

Recent polls suggest that whatever success Biden has had pulling the U.S. economy out of the post-pandemic morass, it hasn't been registering with ordinary Americans.

A new poll released Monday by ABC News and the Washington Post found that 62 per cent of those surveyed believed Biden accomplished "not very much" or "little or nothing" during the first half of his term, compared with 36 per cent who feel the opposite.

That's despite a number of signature wins, including infrastructure spending worth $1.2 trillion, the comprehensive health, tax and climate change spending package known as the Inflation Reduction Act and billions on building up domestic manufacturing.

Fresh jobs numbers reported Friday also painted a different picture: the economy added a remarkable 517,000 jobs last month alone, bringing the country's unemployment rate down to just 3.4 per cent.

Brian Deese, Biden's outgoing director of the National Economic Council, acknowledged Monday that the full impact of the administration's efforts has yet to be fully felt, in part because of Biden's focus on engineering a more equitable "bottom-up" and "middle-out" recovery.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was among those dispatched by the White House to sing the praises of Biden's economic plan in advance of the president's speech.

"We're investing in America again. Factories are opening all across America, and not just on the coast, but throughout the country in areas that haven't seen the investment that they need," Yellen said Monday during an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America."

A recession in the U.S. seems unlikely given the strong jobs numbers reported for January, the lowest unemployment rate in 53 years and inflation that continues to decline, she said.

One of the only wild cards would be if Republicans on Capitol Hill, led by newly elected Speaker Kevin McCarthy, make good on a lingering threat to send the U.S. into default by refusing to increase the debt ceiling, she added.

"America has paid all of its bills on time since 1789, and not to do so would produce an economic and financial catastrophe," Yellen said.

"It's something that simply can't be negotiable, and while sometimes we've gone up to the wire, it's something that Congress has always recognized their responsibility (and) needs to do again."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2023.