WASHINGTON – For the first time in nearly 20 years, the U.S. hosted an official state visit for a Canadian prime minister on Thursday.
“It’s about time, eh?” President Barack Obama joked.
Canadian and American flags fluttered gently with the spring breeze as they flanked the South Lawn of the White House, where Obama and first lady Michelle Obama formally welcomed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau.
“We are family,” Obama said. “And this is also a special day for the many Canadians who live and work here in America and who enrich our lives every day. We don’t always realize it, but so often, that neighbor, that coworker, that member of the White House staff, some of our favorite artists and performers – they’re Canadian! They sneak up on you.”
Since taking office in November, Trudeau has gained worldwide popularity for several things, such as naming a cabinet that is half female and personally greeting Syrian refugees in Toronto. Canada has already reaching its quota of 25,000 admitted Syrian refugees in four months.
“Mr. Prime Minister, your election and the first few months in office have brought a new energy and dynamism not only to Canada but to the relationship between our nations,” Obama said. “We have a common outlook on the world. And I have to say, I have never seen so many Americans so excited about the visit of a Canadian prime minister.”
They didn’t discuss much policy at the ceremony, but jokes about hockey and Canadian pop artists were exchanged.
“Now, I don’t want to gloss over the very real differences between Americans and Canadians. There are some things we will probably never agree on: Whose beer is better. Who’s better at hockey,” Obama said to laughter from the crowd. He then reminded everyone that the Stanley Cup is currently in his hometown with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Trudeau hit back with a cheeky response of his own.
“As an exporting nation, Canada is always eager to work closely to reduce trade barriers between our countries,” Trudeau began. “And speaking of exports, we know with certainty that there’s a high demand for Canadian goods down here. A few that come to mind that President Obama just rightly recognized as being extraordinary contributors to the American success story is Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks.”
Obama was quick to acknowledge universal health care as a commonality between the two nations.
“I’m proud to be the first American president to stand with a Canadian prime minister and be able to say that – in both our nations – health care is not a privilege for a few but is now a right for all,” Obama said.
“Whether we’re charting a course for environmental protection, making key investments to grow our middle class, or defending the rights of oppressed peoples abroad, Canada and the United States will always collaborate in partnership and good faith,” Trudeau said.
After the ceremony, the two leaders delved into policy talk and their visions for the future at a press conference in the Rose Garden. They spoke about climate change and trade between the U.S. and Canada.
“Of course no two nations agree on everything,” Obama said. “Our countries are no different – but in terms of our interests, our values … few countries match up the way the United States and Canada do.”
Due to this alignment, the two leaders want to make the process of trading, investing and traveling between both nations easier, Obama said. About 400,000 people and $2 billion worth of goods and services cross the two nations’ borders each day.
“Of course, every time we have a presidential election, our friends to the north have to brace for an exodus of Americans who swear they’ll move to Canada if the guy from the other party wins,” Obama said to laughter from the press. “Typically, it turns out fine.”
A new agreement will allow travelers to pre-clear immigration and customs to make it easier for Americans and Canadians to travel across the border, Obama said.
The president spoke about climate change and new steps with Canada to decrease methane emissions in oil and gas sectors in both countries, as well as a new climate and science partnership to protect the Arctic.
“This partnership foresees new standards based on scientific data, from fishing in the high seas of the Arctic, as well as set new standards to ensure maritime transport with less emissions,” Trudeau said. “The partnership will also promote sustainable development in the region, in addition to putting the bar higher in terms of preserving the biodiversity in the Arctic.”
Trudeau and his delegation are bringing the right values, enormous energy and commitment to their work, Obama said.
“I think that’s how democracies are supposed to work,” Obama said. “That’s reflected in the positive response to the work that they’ve done so far, and I think that will carry them very far.”
The Obamas are hosting the Trudeaus at a state dinner Thursday night. Trudeau will conclude his visit Friday with a speech at American university and by placing a wreath at the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
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