Meeting between ‘Justin and Joe’ comes with political stakes for Trudeau

‘At the forefront of the prime minister’s office and officials is the demonstration to particularly the Canadian public that the relationship is strong, robust and friendly’

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OTTAWA – U.S. and Canadian officials are predicting a friendly and cordial visit between “Justin and Joe,” as the U.S. president comes to town, with disagreements, but no crises between the two world leaders.

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Biden’s brief visit to Ottawa will come with an address to Parliament and sit downs with Trudeau and his cabinet before a formal dinner on Friday evening.

Both U.S. and Canadian officials gave background briefing in advance of the trip, where they provided information about the trip on the provision they were identified as senior administration officials.

U.S. officials stressed they want to talk to the Trudeau government about many issues, including the situation in Haiti and Ukraine, NORAD modernization, climate changes, several trade irritants and other issues, but said none of the issues are a crisis for the relationship.

One U.S. official said the two leaders are on a first name basis and the “largest real tension that exists between the two countries is hockey.”

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Biden was expected to bring his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, as well as many officials from the Homeland security and State departments, but a detailed list of who was coming from the administration was not available.

Canadian officials were similarly upbeat about the prospect of the meetings, saying that on issues like the Safe Third Country Agreement, which has a loophole that has led to thousands of migrants crossing at Roxham Road in Quebec, both sides are eager to get some results.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted Wednesday that a solution was on the horizon.

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“This is something that is as everyone knows a deep, important, complex issue that involves vulnerable individuals, it involves sovereignty, it involves ensuring our own citizens that we have a strong and effective immigration and asylum system,” he said.

“We’ve been working very closely with the Americans for many months and we hope to have an announcement soon.”

Canadian officials also said they believe the two countries are moving in the same direction on the larger issues like climate change and the war in Ukraine.

Andrea van Vugt, a former foreign affairs advisor to prime minister Stephen Harper and now an executive with Wellington Advocacy, said despite many issues between the two countries and occasional political differences the two countries usually find a way to work together.

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“The thing that I admire the most about the relationship between Canada, the United States, and Canadian and U.S. leaders, is that even when there’s real political disagreement, we still seem to be able to get big things done together,” she said.

She said for Canadian leaders the pressure locally is to show a good relationship. With so much of Canada’s economy depending on a good relationship, she said voters want to see a good bond between the prime minister and the president.

“At the forefront of the prime minister’s office and officials is the demonstration to particularly the Canadian public that the relationship is strong, robust and friendly,” she said.

When she was in government, van Vugt helped plan many visits to Canada of world leaders, as well as Harper’s visits around the world.

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She said generally a lot of the work on what is discussed and what is being agreed to is done in advance between bureaucrats and political staff, but there are areas that only get resolved when the two leaders sit down face to face.

“When you put two world leaders together to discuss things that are going on, because they’re spending so much time together, they are able to get into the weeds on things that are harder to discuss over the phone,” she said.

She said there are also issues that need to be discussed in person and in this case Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is probably high on that list.

“There are things that they will hold to discuss in person that will not necessarily result in an announcement, but that are essential things that must be discussed between the two world leaders,” she said.

She said she has a great deal of sympathy for people in the prime minister’s office who are probably dealing with a deluge of requests from people looking for crucial invites to potentially get even a minute of Biden’s time.

“Everyone wants to to have their best shot at being invited to the state dinner or be invited to this speech to Parliament or to be able to be included in some way in the the the rest of the program that will happen.”

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