Trudeau’s Washington state dinner to bode well, observers say

by | Mar 8, 2016 | News

Sam Juric

After nearly 20 years wedged between state visits, the White House will be pulling out all the stops for a rare Canadian visit by Prime Minister Trudeau.

Jean Chrétien was the last prime minister to be guest of honour at a state dinner when he was invited by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1997.

President Barack Obama is set to host Trudeau at a state dinner on Thursday, causing observers to analyze the potential significance of the visit for Canadian-U.S. relations.

Laura Stone, a reporter with the Globe and Mail’s Ottawa Bureau, told Humber News the event is very telling.

“We know that president Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau do see eye to eye on a lot of issues,” Stone said.

“A Canadian prime minister has not gone there in 19 years and that…is a very big deal,” said Stone.

The two world leaders first became acquainted at the G20 meeting in Turkey in November.

The pair met again in the following days at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila.

Robert Bothwell, a specialist in Canadian political and foreign policy, told Humber News the visit’s impact on Canadian-U.S. relations could be “considerable” despite Obama’s limited, remaining time in office with the presidential elections looming.

“It’s clear that Obama is immensely relieved to be rid of  (former prime minister) Stephen Harper and so I think there is a genuinely positive feeling behind the visit,” said Bothwell, who earned his Ph.D in political science at Harvard University.

The issues of ISIS, climate change and the Syrian refugee crisis are “bound to come up,” he said.

“Canada and the U.S. have a huge interest in stopping the flood of refugees, which is destabilizing our allies in Western Europe,” Bothwell said.

Harper and Obama ‘on different planets’

Canadians can expect disagreements between the leaders on particular issues with regards to climate change but this shouldn’t be cause for concern, said Bothwell.

“The fact is that when one [leader] talks to the other they will know that the words, ideas, mean the same to both,” Bothwell said.

The seismic gap between visits can be largely attributed to the diverging world views of Harper and Obama, Bothwell told Humber News.

“Harper and Obama were on different planets. Harper’s mindset, his beliefs, are very similar to those of the Republican right wing and, as we know, Obama’s are not,” said Bothwell.

From the Keystone XL pipeline to climate change, it’s no wonder Obama had “no time” for Harper, Bothwell said.

Trudeau will be continuing a family tradition of sorts, as his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was guest to the White House on three state dinners—in 1969 he was invited by president Richard Nixon, in 1974 with president Gerald Ford; and a final time in 1977 with president Jimmy Carter.

The Canadian delegation will include cabinet members such as International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.