'Canada matters': Trudeau's White House visit sends message, Freeland says
Emily Chan, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, March 6, 2016 11:00AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, March 6, 2016 12:42PM EST
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's upcoming trip to the White House this week will send a message to U.S. politicians that "Canada matters," says International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland.
The minister, who will be accompanying Trudeau, said the meeting is an opportunity to renew the relationship between the two countries, and to raise Canada's profile south of the border.
"It sends a message through the entire U.S. political system," she told CTV's Question Period. "It says to everyone in the U.S. government, 'Canada matters to the United States.'"
Trudeau is scheduled to visit Washington, D.C., on Thursday, where he will meet with President Barack Obama and attend an official state dinner.
The last Canadian prime minister honoured with a U.S. state dinner was Jean Chretien, who dined with then-president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton in 1997.
Nearly 20 years later, Freeland says Trudeau and Obama are expected to discuss some key issues, including the environment, trade, security and the economy.
Freeland is one of a number of Canadian delegates who will accompany the prime minister in Washington. Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Hunter Tootoo and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna are also expected to join Trudeau.
Speaking on CTV's Question Period, McKenna said she expects climate change will be a key issue when the two leaders meet on Thursday.
"It's a really big priority for both the prime minister and the president," McKenna said. "They're both extremely committed to strong action on climate change, and we believe that we need to be working together with the U.S., with Mexico, to develop a plan to move forward towards a low-carbon economy."
Softwood lumber deal 'a fiendishly complex' issue
Trudeau is also expected to raise the issue of softwood lumber when he meets with Obama.
The previous U.S.-Canada softwood lumber agreement expired last October, and since then the countries have been unable to negotiate a new deal.
Freeland said striking a softwood lumber deal is a "Canadian priority," but that the issue is complicated.
"This is a fiendishly complex issue," she said. "This is one where, really, getting the attention of the United States … is going to be tremendously important."
In the past, American industry groups have accused Canada of unfairly subsidizing its lumber production, and disputes have led to years-long court cases.
Wilson Centre Canada Institute Director Laura Dawson said, ideally, Trudeau and Obama will address the deal at their upcoming meeting.
However, if no agreement is made it could drag out into a lengthy process, she said.
"I would like to see a settlement of softwood lumber at these meetings, at these dinners," she told CTV's Question Period. "But if he's not able to do that then I think softwood lumber could be a long, really protracted debate, a protracted problem."
Trudeau and Obama: "A very real connection"
Trudeau and Obama first officially spoke over the phone in October, shortly after Trudeau won the Canadian election.
Relations between the neighbouring countries hit a bump in the road last November when Obama officially rejected the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. But when the two later sat down in person for a meeting in Manila relations were warm, Freeland said.
Looking towards the upcoming visit, Freeland says she anticipates that amicable relationship to continue.
"One of the most important accomplishments will be the intangible one of just building this relationship, knitting our countries more closely, and raising the importance of Canada in the minds of Americans," she said.
Former deputy prime minister John Manley also said the meeting will be an important opportunity to raise Canada's profile in the U.S.
"Our problem … in Washington is that their agenda is so packed and so varied that just to get on the agenda is an achievement for us," Manley said.
As for whether Obama might make a trip to Ottawa before the presidential election on Nov. 8, Freeland said nothing has been decided.
"I think it would be great to welcome President Obama to our country," she said. "Maybe that's one of the things we'll talk about when we're there."
With files from The Canadian Press