Justin Trudeau visits Washington as first Canadian prime minister in 19 years; Obama extends heartily welcome as climate change, liberal allies

Justin Trudeau visited Washington on March 9-11 to a warm and cordial welcome by President Barack Obama. It was the first official visit, highlighted by lavish and gorgeous state dinner at the White House, by a Canadian prime minister in 19 years. The dinner with exuberant good will and friendship by the host and the guest promised a stronger bond between the two leaders and their two neighbor countries’ closer ties ahead.

Even before Trudeau’s visit began, White House officials said “there is a special relationship developing between this president and prime minister.” “Both young leaders with similar visions, both have a progressive vision of governing, both are very much committed to the appropriate use of multilateral tools, both are committed to diversity,” Mark Feierstein, senior director for Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council, said.(CBC News, March 8)

In their private talks at the White House Oval Office, Trudeau and Obama agreed to drastically cut by almost half methane emissions from the oil and gas sector – methane gas causes far serious global warming effects than carbon dioxide – and cooperate to preserve the Arctic, as well as to expand people’s cross-border travels and trade of goods. The two leaders agreed to let their officials work on agreement on the sensitive softwood lumber trade within 100 days, without going into sticky details, and would not touch on the controversial oil pipeline issue that had strained relations between Obama and Trudeau’s conservative predecessor, John Harper, who pushed Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline for the sake of Canada’s national interest.

Obama extolled Prime Minister Trudeau’s progressive agenda, casting him as an heir to his own liberal legacy on climate change and social justice. (Globe and Mail, March 10)

“He campaigned on a message of hope and change. His positive and optimistic vision is inspiring young people at home,” Obama said to reporters in the Rose Garden as the two leaders emerged from wide-ranging talks in the Oval Office. That’s exactly what he embodied – hope and change and youthfulness – in his own presidential election campaign eight years earlier. Likewise, many Americans who eagerly greeted the arrival in Washington of Prime Minister Trudeau, with his wife Sophie Gregoire, and their three young children were seeing the same quality with which Obama entrenched them eight years ago. Big media, including the New York Times and the Vogue magazine did special features on Trudeau on sympathetic tone, and CBS’s popular and influential “60 Minutes” ran Trudeau’s profile and interview to millions of American views on the Sunday just days before his visit. U.S. media covered the Canadian leader’s visit extensively.

During the ceremony welcoming the Canadian guests on the White House South Lawn, Obama also said, “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.” He loudly praised Trudeau’s promise – and putting it into action – to restore close relations with the U.S. during the election campaign and helped jointly lead the Paris climate change conference to a major agreement on greenhouse gas emission control plan, closely working with the United States as soon as he assumed the post.

Trudeau responded as effusively in praising the host. “I have learned a lot from him. For me to be able to count on a friend who has lived through many of the things I’m about to encounter on the political stage, the international state, it’s a great comfort to me,” he said.

“We’re actually closer than friends,” Trudeau said in his official toast. “We’re more like siblings, really. We have shared parentage, but we took different paths in our later years. We became the stay-at-home type, you grew up to be a little more rebellious.” To return Obama’s favor, Trudeau invited the president to address Parliament in Ottawa when he will attend the North American Leaders’ Summit, popularly known as the Three Amigos’ Summit, this year in Canada, which he will host in June and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto will also attend. That will make him the first U.S. president to do so in 21 years.

Trudeau, only 10 years younger than the 54-year-old Obama, apparently accepted the role of eager student, or a protégé as a rookie prime minister, trying to learn from the wisdom of the political mentor, Obama, lame duck retiring from his two-term eight years of presidency in only 10 months, as some Canadian newspapers described, such as the Toronto Star.

Not only Canadian newspapers, but major U.S. newspapers like the Washington Post, New York Times and USA Today used “bromance” to describe the public display of admiration between Trudeau and Obama – who showered each other with personal praise, as we have seen in the above. (Toronto Star, March 10)

Obama is seriously trying to leave his climate change legacy, by partnering with Trudeau as his heir. His choice of Trudeau as his heir and partner on the progressive theme, as well as environment theme comes against the domestic political backdrop. In the process of selecting of his successor, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is causing phenomena, despite, or rather because of, his controversial remarks attacking immigrations and refugees, and women and playing on racial resentment and fears of Muslims – in stark contrast with Trudeau’s liberal policies.

“With his picture on the front page of the New York Times, Mr. Trudeau was already being declared Barack Obama’s new progressive partner after an official visit and a celebrity-leader reception at a state dinner,” a Globe and Mail columnist Campbell Clark declared. (Globe and Mail, March 11)

On March 10, Justin Trudeau stood on the same balcony of the White House, along with his wife, together with President Obama and first lady Michelle, as his father, Pierre Trudeau and his mother Margaret, almost four decades ago, in 1977, and was treated to the same state dinner in the same East Room as his father was. Pierre Trudeau was twice honored at a state dinner at the White House (the other one in 1969 with Nixon). There must have been many thoughts coming to the young Trudeau’s mind. His mother, Margaret, who was the 1977 state dinner guest with her husband, was present to witness the dinner Obama gave, and was introduced to other guests there.


By Yoshikazu Ishizuka, TOCS senior consultant

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