Hundreds gather on White House lawn to help welcome visiting Trudeau

The Canadian Press
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Former Prince Edward Island native, Ben Wright, is tweeting from the meeting in Washington. Follow his tweets here: https://twitter.com/BenWrightATL

WASHINGTON — Canada and the United States are blessed to be neighbours, allies and the closest of friends, says U.S. President Barack Obama - even if they may disagree from time to time about things like decent beer and hockey dominance.

A relaxed-looking Obama welcomed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau to the White House on Thursday with some friendly gibes about two of the northern nation's favourite subjects.

“It's long been said that you can choose your friends but you cannot choose your neighbours,” Obama said, a surrounded by a crowd of hundreds of onlookers, many of them of Canadian heritage.

“Well, by virtue of geography, the United States and Canada are blessed to be neighbours and by choice we are steadfast allies and the closest of friends.”

Obama referenced an official visit by Trudeau's prime-minister father Pierre a generation ago, and said Americans don't always express their appreciation for their Canadian allies.

“Our Canadian friends can be more reserved, more easy-going. We Americans can be a little louder, more boisterous and, as a result, we haven't always conveyed how much we treasure our alliance and our ties with our Canadian friends.”

Nor do both sides often agree about who makes the best beer or has the better hockey skills, Obama said, citing his hometown Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks as evidence.

For good measure, Obama threw in a few Canadianisms, opening his remarks with '“Bonjour” and joking at one point that it's been nearly 20 years since a Canadian prime minister was welcomed with a state dinner: “It's about time, eh?”

And he acknowledged that Canada is an ever-present fixture in U.S. life, whether Americans know it or not.

“We don't always realize it, but so often that neighbour, that co-worker, that member of the White House staff, some of our favourite artists and performers, they're Canadian. They sneak up on you.”

Trudeau's response, save for crediting Obama with the weather and a pointed reminder about the Canadian star power on the Blackhawks lineup, was decidedly more formal.

“We've faced many challenges over the course of our shared history, and while we have agreed on many things and disagreed on a few others, we remain united in a common purpose,” Trudeau 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.”

He added: “There is no relationship in the entire world like the Canada-U.S. relationship.”

Afterward, the two leaders returned inside for a meeting where they are expected to discuss plans for deals to co-operate on climate change, the Arctic and the shared Canada-U.S. border.

A U.S. statement said the leaders have already agreed to new steps to curb methane gas emissions; co-ordinate with aboriginal peoples in Arctic development; and support cleaner energy.

“To set us on an ambitious and achievable path, the leaders commit to reduce methane emissions by 40-45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025 from the oil and gas sector, and explore new opportunities for additional methane reductions,” the statement said.

Obama acknowledged the impact Trudeau has had even in the short few months since the federal Liberals were elected last October.

“Your election and first few months in office have brought a new energy and dynamism not only to Canada but to the relationship between our nations,” he said.

“We have a common outlook on the world, and I have to say I have never seen so many Americans excited about the visit of a Canadian prime minister.”

People - many of them with a personal connection to Canada - were invited by the White House to watch the ceremony, and they acknowledged an unusual level of interest in Trudeau.

Liz Siddle, an expat who's lived in Washington for years, said the new Canadian leader is a frequent topic of conversation among her U.S. colleagues.

“He comes up all the time,” said Siddle, showing her colours with a red Canadian scarf. “As soon as he was elected, Americans were saying, 'Oh, your new PM' - I don't think they knew who the old PM was.”

Brian Tham, another Canadian expat, was wearing a Team Canada hockey jersey.

“It comes up in a way that it never did under the Harper government,” Tham said.

“Nobody talked about Stephen Harper in D.C., in his 10 years. As soon as (Trudeau) was elected, he was part of the conversation. People talk, 'Hey, what do you think of the new (PM)?' Obviously he's very good-looking, he's very exciting, he's very progressive. And that plays really well in D.C.”

Thursday's welcome included a military band, a fife-and-drum contingent in Revolutionary War garb and an honour guard, with hundreds of people gathered in a scene unlike any that has greeted a Canadian prime minister in recent political memory.

They basked in unseasonable warmth under crystal-clear blue skies while a military brass band set the mood on the lawn facing the National Mall. The cherry blossoms were beginning to pop, a familiar symbol of a Washington spring.

The building, an icon of presidential power, was decked out in Canadian and U.S. flags up to the balconies of the famous columns of the portico.

After a midday news conference, Trudeau goes for lunch at the State Department. In the afternoon he'll meet with lawmakers from both parties.

The day ends with the first White House State dinner for a Canadian leader in 19 years. Trudeau will dine in the mansion's East Room, where his father was serenaded by Robert Goulet at an after-party for his own first state dinner here in 1969.

The three-day trip ends Friday with a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, a speech, and a town hall-type forum with university students.

 

Organizations: State Department

Geographic location: United States, WASHINGTON, Canada Arctic North America White House East Room

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments