OTTAWA — Clean energy, irregular migration and economic growth will top the agenda as U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meet for bilateral talks Friday.
Biden arrived in Ottawa Thursday night and had dinner with Trudeau and his family at their home but the major part of his first official visit to Canada as president takes place on Friday afternoon.
Biden and Trudeau are expected to have several announcements following their bilateral talks, including expanding the Safe Third Country Agreement and co-operation on clean energy and critical minerals.
“I think we’re gonna get a lot done today,” Biden said, seated beside Trudeau in his Parliament Hill office, in a brief photo op before their private meeting.
Biden’s lengthy motorcade arrived on Parliament Hill shortly before noon Friday amid a sea of security, media and red carpet pomp. Trudeau greeted him outside and ushered him into the West Block, which is serving as the temporary home of Canada’s House of Commons while the main one is undergoing a decade-long renovation.
Biden last visited Canada in 2016 when he was still the vice-president. His first official visit to Canada as president was delayed by the pandemic and then Biden himself getting COVID-19 last summer.
Biden said it has been “too long” since he was in Canada, and that the U.S. is lucky to have Canada as its northern neighbour.
“We may disagree and agree on things occasionally but there is no fundamental difference in the democratic values we share,” he said. “It’s an honour to be here.”
Trudeau said economics, climate change and geopolitical security concerns will highlight their conversation.
The two leaders ignored questions thrown at them by reporters about Chinese government interference. Biden’s visit comes as Trudeau and his government are facing multiple allegations Beijing attempted to influence both the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
The spectre of China’s geopolitical policies will be in mind as Biden addresses Parliament Friday afternoon. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor will be in attendance there, and later at a gala dinner. The two were held prisoner in China for more than 1,000 days, arrested and charged with various spying offences in retaliation for Canada’s decision to arrest Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 at the request of the U.S. government.
This is the first public appearance for the two since they were released in September 2021, after the U.S. and China reached a deal that led to Meng’s release in Canada.
A receiving line of Canadian politicians from all parties shook hands with Biden as he first arrived, including Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre who shook Biden’s hand and introduced himself as the “Leader of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.”
The introduction prompted Biden to quip, still shaking Poilievre’s hand: “Loyal opposition?”
Poilievre assured him that yes, “we believe that opposition is an act of loyalty in our system.”
Biden chuckled, patting Poilievre on the arm. The two are expected to have a longer “pull-aside” conversation later on Friday.
“We do, too, unfortunately,” he said, chuckling.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh described himself as leading Canada’s version of a labour party and told Biden he does “great things” for labour in the U.S. And Green Leader Elizabeth May handed Biden a chocolate bar with the word “Peace” from a Nova Scotia chocolatier Peace by Chocolate owned by Syrian refugees.
“I love chocolate,” Biden told her, accepting the gift.
Biden and Trudeau will meet privately and then with an expanded list of cabinet ministers, before Biden addresses Parliament this afternoon.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and national security adviser Jake Sullivan are travelling with Biden on this trip.
Trudeau’s agenda will include pushing Biden to reconsider the Buy American doctrine, in which Washington enacts policies aimed at shoring up domestic industry at the expense of foreign companies, including those bound by the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement that replaced NAFTA.
Both sides say they also want to discuss the gang crisis in Haiti, an impoverished Caribbean nation where a political vacuum has led to roving gangs, a cholera outbreak and more Haitians claiming asylum in the U.S.
The Biden administration has said Canada should consider the request of Haiti’s de facto government to lead a military intervention to clear out the gangs, but Trudeau has argued that past military deployments haven’t stemmed violence in the country.
After months of pushing at the United Nations for a multinational force, American officials said this week that it might not be what Haiti needs.
The two countries have already agreed in principle to fortify immigration rules that have led to a spike in the number of people slipping across their shared border in order to claim asylum in Canada.
The rules currently allow either country to turn back asylum seekers from outside the U.S. or Canada who try to make a claim at an official entry point. The changes would extend those rules to cover unofficial crossings as well.
They also released a joint statement Friday promising more co-operation on nuclear energy.
The streets in front of Parliament were quiet early Friday morning as police prepared for a spectacle big enough to draw celebrities to the city, but disruptive enough to keep morning commuters at home.
Barricades of fences, police and their vehicles surround Parliament Hill, and only those with special passes are allowed in.
Only a small group of fans gathered outside to welcome Biden, along with a lone “Freedom Convoy” protester who held up a large Canadian flag.
First lady Jill Biden is spending the day with Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. The two started the day learning about curling at a local rink.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.
— With files from James McCarten in Washington, and Dylan Robertson, David Fraser, Laura Osman and Mickey Djuric in Ottawa.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press