“Trudeau fever” is hitting Washington, D.C.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives in Washington Wednesday — the start of a multi-day fête to honour the “special relationship” between Canada and the United States. It’s his first visit to the U.S. as prime minister, and tomorrow he’ll be the guest of honour at the first state dinner for a Canadian in 19 years.
Headlines in the Washington Post heralded the arrival of Trudeau’s “star power” to America’s capital, and Politico noted that “Trudeau fever” was at an all-time high.
Although the visit is largely symbolic, it can be a chance for the two countries to accomplish something significant, said Robert Bothwell, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global of Affairs.
Significant policy announcements are already anticipated. Trudeau is expected to make headway with Obama on a comprehensive climate-change agreement, as well as a plan to streamline the customs process at the border.
“Notoriously, the Americans are worse prepared for bilateral discussions than we are, because Canadian issues are pretty far down the ‘to-do’ list compared to Iran or Israel or Ukraine,” Bothwell told the Star in an email.
The prime minister lands at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland this afternoon, followed by a reception at the Smithsonian Institution hosted by Canada 2020, a self-described progressive think tank with strong ties to the Liberal Party. Thursday morning, he meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, has lunch with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and attends the state dinner.
A state dinner is the very height of diplomatic pomp, and this one is sure to be a glamour-filled evening.
Before he leaves on Friday, he’ll lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, host a Q&A at American University and attend a Canada 2020 luncheon.
Carrying on the legacy?
There’s no word yet on whether Trudeau plans to go swimming in the White House pool.
His father made quite the splash in 1969 when he asked his host, Richard Nixon, if he could take a dip in the presidential swimming pool to freshen up before a state dinner.
Pierre Trudeau had a second visit to the White House in 1977, when he was the guest of then-president Jimmy Carter.
Since the last official Canadian state dinner in 1997, the relationship between Canada and the U.S. has had some ups and downs, Bothwell said.
Jean Chrétien and George W. Bush did not get along. When Canada refused to join the invasion of Iraq, Bush cancelled a presidential visit to Ottawa and instead invited the Australian prime minister to visit the Bush family on their ranch, Bothwell said.
Harper’s relationship with Obama was also notoriously cool, fuelled by fundamental disagreements over climate change and the Keystone pipeline.
“His voice was that of the oil patch, and Obama did not care for the gurgle,” Bothwell said.
Meeting of the wives
This visit isn’t just about politics — it’s a chance for both leaders to get to know each other and their families.
Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau will meet Michelle Obama, and the two of them will attend a “spousal program” event to support Let Girls Learn, a U.S. government initiative that supports girls’ education around the world.
Michelle Obama will play a big role in the state dinner as well. As First Lady, she is traditionally the co-host of state dinners and everything she does — from the dress she chooses to wear to the place settings she approves — is supposed to boost the diplomatic relations of the two countries.
For Grégoire-Trudeau, this visit is her chance to shine not just as Trudeau’s wife, but as an envoy of Canada.
With files from The Canadian Press