WASHINGTON—Justin Trudeau’s first prime ministerial visit to the United States got underway Wednesday as he stepped off the airplane with his wife and children to begin a trip unique in the recent history of Canada-U.S. relations.
Anticipated announcements on bilateral issues like climate change, next-generation border security and the Arctic are merely one tranche of the story of the three-day trip.
It’s also a snapshot in time. The highlight will be the first state dinner for a Canadian in 19 years at a moment where two sympatico progressive leaders hold office and the Canadian one also happens to be unusually well-known here.
The visit has prompted a rare degree of American media attention. A more gushing example was in the tabloid Politico headline, “Justin Fever Hits Washington,” followed by a story where a senior White House official admitted having a bit of a crush on the young leader from the north.
It also comes so late in Barack Obama’s tenure that one official couldn’t say whether or not this state dinner—the 11th of his presidency—might be his final one.
The U.S. electoral subtext was sprinkled through Trudeau’s first public remarks. He did not mention the election specifically, or its heated debates over banning Muslim travellers and expelling Mexican migrants.
But the main theme of his remarks to a cocktail reception was diversity—and about the danger of reacting to a smaller, globalized world by castigating others.
“It becomes easy to be fearful,” Trudeau told the gathering at an art gallery near the White House, as a small crowd of onlookers waited a few hours by the building to catch glimpses of him.
“It becomes easy to turn in on ourselves. But we know from history that it’s much more important to turn outwards. And to draw out the best of each other.”
Across the street, White House officials offered a tour of the East Room where the state dinner will be held. It’s the same room where Trudeau’s father was serenaded by Robert Goulet at the after-party during his first state dinner, in 1969. The meal will be sprinkled with Canadiana—including a duck-poutine canape and Canadian whisky drizzled over lamb.
Denison Offut said there’s also fertile ground for co-operation on substantive files.
“The leaders are progressive, forward-looking, and have very similar common values and agendas,” said Offut, director for North American affairs.
“Having met … last December there was a natural synergy there. Especially with the followup at the Paris environmental talks.”
Sources say there’ll be multiple announcements after the leaders meet Thursday.
One could revolutionize the way Canadians and Americans enter each other’s country by allowing pre-border customs screening—in train stations, bus stations, on ships and off highways the same way it already occurs in several Canadian airports, with the goal being smoother travel through choke points.
The climate agreements will include components on the Arctic and commitments to reduce methane-gas emissions, and help developing countries cope with the effects with environmental change. Some third-party groups consulted on the trip also expect announcements on clean technology.
The prime minister landed at Andrews Air Force Base and emerged alongside his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau and their three children—Xavier, Ella-Grace and Hadrien. They stood for the national anthem and departed for a reception near the White House.
Thursday is the main meeting with President Barack Obama in the morning, followed by meetings with senior members of Congress and the state dinner in the evening.
He’ll conclude the three-day trip Friday when he lays a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, takes part in a question-and-answer session with university students and speaks to a think-tank audience.
Prime ministerial visits rarely raise a ripple in the U.S. capital but the arrival of this refugee-hugging, self-declared feminist subject of fawning profiles and a Vogue magazine spread is an exception to the rule.
Witness the Politico item, which features an anonymous senior Obama official declaring Trudeau her “new political crush,” saying, “Seriously, with his looks, heart, and mind, he’s dreamy.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, also noted the novelty of Americans paying attention to a Canadian politician.
“For a long time Canadians were a bit obsessed with President Obama,” she told a forum hosted by Politico late Tuesday. “This is just deserts.”
But there are limits to U.S. fascination. While some Canadian news networks ran live footage of Trudeau’s plane on the tarmac, none of the U.S. networks did.