WASHINGTON – Hailing the often-overlooked partnership between the United States and Canada, President Barack Obama lauded the liberal agenda of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday, casting him as an heir to his own progressive legacy.
“No two nations agree on everything,” Obama said during a morning news conference in the White House Rose Garden. “Our countries are no different but, in terms of our interests and values and how we approach the world, few countries match up the way the United States and Canada do.”
They did, however, acknowledge their differences on sports, from baseball to hockey.
During the news conference, Trudeau noted, “We’ve made tremendous progress on many issues. Unfortunately, I will leave town with my beloved Expos still here in Washington. You can’t have everything.”
The Expos baseball team were in Montreal until 2004, when they were relocated to Washington and became the Nationals.
And, in his remarks welcoming the Prime Minister earlier Thursday, Obama teased the Canadian about hockey, noting the NHL’s top prize of the Stanley Cup currently resides in his home town with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The two leaders also spoke of more weighty matters at the news conference, with Obama hailing an agreement on cutting methane emissions and joint efforts to combat ISIS as evidence of a renewed partnership between the two North American neighbors.
He also announced movement toward improving immigration procedures along the U.S.-Canada border, the world’s longest frontier.
Earlier in the day, the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the environment, issuing a joint statement on climate, energy and Arctic leadership that emphasized the economic opportunities for both countries in clean and sustainable growth.
They announced they would work to reduce the use and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons.
They also said they would integrate renewables into their interconnected energy grid, push for advances in clean energy innovation and work to align energy efficiency standards.
Speaking of the border plan, Trudeau said the U.S. and Canada have agreed to make their border “both more open and secure,” with an agreement that would facilitate pre-cleared travelers’ movement through certain airports and train stations.
He said the two sides will also establish a working group within 60 days to address the issue of errors of identity on the no-fly list.
“Overall, the President and I agree on many things,” Trudeau said, “including of paramount importance the direction we want to take our countries in.”
“I want to assure the American people they have a real partner in Canada,” Trudeau said, adding that Canada would help the U.S. tackle problems on their continent as well as “challenges that confront the entire planet.”
Obama and Trudeau are clearly friendly in each other’s company, making small talk amid the grandeur of the official state welcome earlier Thursday morning.
But, Obama took the opportunity to jab the new Canadian leader on key rivalries between the two nations.
“Now, I don’t want to gloss over the very real differences between Americans and Canadians. There are some things we will probably never agree on. Whose beer is better? Who’s better at hockey?” Obama joked. “Where’s the Stanley Cup right now? I’m sorry, is it in my hometown, with the Chicago Blackhawks?”
Trudeau responded by saying, “there’s a high demand for Canadian goods down here.”
“A few that come to mind that President Obama just rightly recognized as being extraordinary contributors to the American success story is Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks,” Trudeau said, noting three prominent Canadians.
Sharp has since joined the Dallas Stars.
Obama’s lighthearted remarks marked a distant cry from the formal welcome greeting he’s delivered for leaders of China, Japan, and Pope Francis – all in the last year.
Those leaders expect the highest levels of protocol visiting the White House.
Obama, for example, would never rib Xi Jinping about the Stanley Cup and Shinzo Abe about the quality of his beer.
Canadians are a little more laid back, Obama said.
But, Trudeau seemed to take the jokes in stride, tweeting, “My thanks to @POTUS Barack Obama for the warm welcome today. Sophie & I already feel at home.”
And, as he works to develop an alliance – and friendship – with the young Trudeau, the President is clearly working to broaden ties with Canada beyond their traditional partnerships on trade and security.
In his remarks, Obama mentioned climate change and same-sex marriage as the major points of agreement.
Those are areas Obama hopes will constitute his liberal legacy; in Trudeau, he sees a natural heir to his progressive vision, even if he’s a little further north.
“Even more to protect our countries and our community, especially in the Arctic from climate change, just as we acted together at Paris to reach the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change,” Obama said.
He also said the two countries could “do even more together to advance human development around the world.”
Later at the news conference, Obama acknowledged that relations with Canada haven’t been a regular focus of his foreign policy – given more strained alliances around the world – but stressed that maintaining good ties between Washington and Ottawa was essential.
“To some degree, you don’t fix what’s not broken, and the relationship is extraordinary and doesn’t, I don’t think, need some set of revolutionary concepts,” he said. “What it does require is not taking the relationship for granted.”
Trudeau, speaking alternately in French and English, said he was looking toward Obama as an example of successful progressive leadership amid global crises.
“I’ve learned a lot from him. He is somebody who is a deep thinker. He’s somebody with a big heart, but also a big brain,” Trudeau said. “And, for me to be able to count on a friend who has lived through many of the things that I’m about to encounter on the political stage, on the international stage, it’s a great comfort to me.”
Though Trudeau’s predecessors made regular trips to Washington, this is the first official visit by a Canadian premier in 19 years.
That means extra ceremony, including a state dinner at the White House.
It’s just one sign of White House happiness that Canada has elected a leader who shares many of Obama’s priorities.
The two leaders will largely focus on trade and climate change, White House officials said, and also hope to make progress in resolving a long-running dispute over lumber imports into the United States during the visit.
The coalition fight against ISIS will also be on the agenda, as Trudeau and Obama discuss Canada’s decision to expand the number of trainers on the ground providing targeting and intelligence support, as well as aerial resources for refueling and surveillance.
Even though Trudeau has only been in office four months, his bond with Obama is already widely seen as an improvement over relations between Obama and former Canadian leader Stephen Harper.
Harper did not share Obama’s concern with climate change and advocated energetically for the Keystone XL pipeline that would have ferried oil from eastern Canada to refineries in the U.S.
Obama rejected it in November citing climate change concerns.
While Trudeau said he would have preferred the deal, he made it clear he didn’t want it to be a stumbling block to warmer ties or to moving the relationship forward.