Trudeau in DC: What went down, other than a fancy dinner

In between photo ops and poutine offerings, leaders did manage to discuss policy on Thursday — here are the top takeaways.  

By: /
March 11, 2016
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau depart after a joint news conference at the White House in Washington March 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

As part of their historic and much anticipated visit to Washington, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau were welcomed to the White House Thursday morning by Barack and Michelle Obama.

After a few light jokes about hockey and weather, the Trudeaus were guided through a crowd of spectators and press as a military band rang out Canada’s national anthem and a fury of cameras clicked in the background. The pair smiled and waved from the balcony, ushering in a new phase of U.S.-Canada relationships.

“We’ve faced many challenges over the course of our shared history,” Trudeau said. “And while we’ve agreed on many things, and disagreed on a few others, we remain united in a common purpose – allies, partner, and friends as we tackle the world’s greatest challenges.”

As has been reported leading up to this week’s visit, relations between the two nations suffered under the Conservative government, leaving Trudeau with a bit of mending to do after taking office in October. But Thursday evening’s state dinner at the White House – a most auspicious event – had many heralding the occasion as a fine beginning, especially since a prime minister hasn’t been given such an honour in nearly 20 years. It was more than just a swanky dinner, analysts say, it signifies the strengthening of a bilateral relationship between the two nations. 

And while the Internet buzzes about a new era of Trudeau-mania and Twitterati gush over what Grégoire-Trudeau has been wearing, here’s what went down on the policy end of things — as detailed in a joint statement released Thursday.

Post-COP21 action on climate change

Both leaders committed to signing and implementing the Paris Agreement as soon as possible and to the creation of long-term plans of lowering greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the agreement. Obama and Trudeau also committed to significantly reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025, adopting an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down hydrofluorocarbons, and to reaching an agreement on a market-based mechanism to limit carbon emissions from international aviation.

The announcement falls on the heels of Trudeau’s meeting with premiers in Vancouver last week. It also highlighted the importance of cooperation across the border at the subnational level to ensure “environmental integrity.”

New bilateral environmental protection for the Arctic

Trudeau and Obama announced a new partnership to confront the challenges facing the Arctic region, such as ecosystem changes brought on by rising global temperatures. The plan emphasized partnerships with Indigenous groups, science-based leadership to conserve biodiversity and building “a sustainable Arctic economy.” The two leaders also pledged to support Arctic communities, in particular respecting the rights and territory of Indigenous peoples. With Indigenous partners in particular, they intend to develop a plan and timeline for renewable energy projects and to advance the resilience of these communities to climate change.

Both governments have already said they would protect at least 17 percent of Arctic land areas and 10 percent of marine areas by 2020, but Thursday, they announced a new, more ambitious conservation commitment will come later this year.

(No mention of course of the fact that the Obama administration conditionally approved a plan proposed by Royal Dutch Shell PLC last year to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea off of Alaska’s North Slope. But there are undoubtedly topics of conversation that have not made it into the press. Putin, anyone?)

New softwood lum… just kidding

Despite a lot of anticipation in Canada, a new long-term agreement for softwood lumber was not announced, and instead, the U.S. reaffirmed its priority: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The statement said that Obama “welcomed” Trudeau’s interest in the softwood lumber deal, and that this administration will explore it and report back within 100 days.

New initiative on cyber cooperation and security

The two countries will be partnering on a new initiative to “strengthen regional participation in the G7 24/7 Network,” enabling national law enforcement agencies to “battle against high-tech crime.” The initiative was mentioned only briefly however, with more details to come.

More information sharing at border crossings and preclearance programs at Canadian airports

Canada will complete the last phase of a coordinated entry-exit information system and the U.S. will be expanding its preclearance operations to eight more sites across Canada, including the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport, Montréal Rail, and Rocky Mountaineer. Currently, Canada has implemented nine preclearance programs that “makes it possible for travellers to clear U.S. customs and immigration processes and get advance approval to enter the United States before boarding their flights,” according to the Pearson Airport website.

Government-Indigenous relations

The two countries pledged to share information on self-governance policy to improve service delivery for First Nations in coming months. The statement affirmed that “supporting Indigenous peoples’ social and economic aspirations” was a “priority” for both Canada and the U.S. Trudeau also agreed to provide to the United States government agencies insight into its consultation with Indigenous communities on federal land.

Canada back on the world stage

Reminiscent of what Trudeau reiterated to the Huffington Post on Monday about his desire to see Canada play a larger role in the world’s multilateral institutions, both leaders committed to strengthening UN peace operations through reforming and modernizing operations in the face of increasingly complex conflicts.

Obama to come to Canada!

After wrapping up discussions Thursday afternoon, Obama and Trudeau told reporters at a joint press conference outside the White House that the president has been invited to speak in Parliament in June, while in Canada for the North American Leaders’ Summit.

And with that, Obama made another joke about the weather and Trudeau continued to praise the president’s achievements during his tenure. No doubt he is taking notes.