Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama are expected to discuss climate change, the border, trade and security when the two meet at the White House on Thursday.

White House officials stopped short of making any announcements in a conference call on Tuesday, but they did indicate that climate change and border pre-clearance will be “focal points” for discussions between the two leaders. Obama and Trudeau are also expected to chat about security issues, the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber deal, and efforts to reduce emissions on methane and black carbon.

The state visit is the first for a Canadian prime minister since Jean Chretien sat down with President Bill Clinton in 1997.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Canadians shouldn’t “read anything into” the fact that Stephen Harper never attended one during nearly decade in office.

Earnest said Obama and Harper frequently found time to chat at international summits, and were able to “work effectively” together.

“The relationships between our two countries transcend any individual personal interactions,” he added.

Earnest said the president recognizes that the relationship between Canada and the U.S. is “one of the most important between any two countries in the world, given our long border, given the size of our economies.”

Trudeau will arrive on the south lawn of the White House around 9 a.m. on Thursday, and is expected to participate in a bilateral meeting with Obama and members of the two leaders’ staff. The two leaders will then hold a joint press conference. Trudeau will also attend a luncheon hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, before attending the state dinner later in the evening.

Prior to his White House visit, Trudeau will attend a reception in Washington on Wednesday, hosted by Canada 2020. Canadian singer The Weeknd is expected to among those attending the reception.

Climate change

In a conference call before the event, Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, hailed the Trudeau government for its efforts on climate change since coming to power.

“The climate relationship with Canada really just ramped up extremely quickly,” Stern said on the conference call. Stern praised Canada for making a “very positive splash” at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris last year, and said he looks forward to Canada signing the Paris agreement with the U.S. and other countries in April. “The commitment of both leaders to addressing this global challenge is clear, and I except under their leadership, North America will make significant progress,” Stern said.


Earnest, Obama’s press secretary, also responded to a question about whether the U.S. and Canada have discussed security concerns in light of Canada’s acceptance of 25,000 Syrian refugees over just a few months.

“Given the fact that the Canadians were able to bring in so many people so quickly, I would be surprised if they were able to apply the same kind of strict screening standards that the United States has in place,” Earnest said.

However, he immediately tempered that comment, stating, “I’m not suggesting that somehow there is a flaw in the Canadian process; I’m just suggesting that it is different than the process the United States has in place.”

Earnest said there are regular consultations between U.S. and Canadian officials about “a wide range of national security issues.”

Mark Feierstein, the senior director for the Western Hemisphere at the U.S. National Security Council, called Canada a “proven and unwavering ally” on security issues.

Feierstein added that the U.S. is “satisfied” with Canada’s new contributions to the coalition against the Islamic State, after Canada opted to halt airstrikes and beef up on-the-ground training in the region.

“Canada continues to play a critically important role in the counter-ISIL coalition,” he said.

Feierstein also lauded the state visit as an opportunity for Trudeau and Obama to deepen the already close relationship between their respective countries. “There is a developing special relationship between the president and prime minister,” he said, adding that the two leaders have similar agendas in their respective administrations. “This will be a good opportunity for the president and prime minister to expand that relationship and build on that.”

Trade and the economy

Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state at the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, downplayed the potential negative impact of the U.S. rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline late last year. “The relationship between the US and Canada survives any one individual issue, regardless of what that issue is,” she said.

In terms of trade, Feierstein said there is no timeline on a softwood lumber deal, but the U.S. is “open to exploring all options.” He added that the U.S. is “respectful” of Trudeau’s election pledge to explore the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, before deciding on whether to ratify it in the House of Commons. The deal was agreed to under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, during the election campaign last year.

Stronger political ties

CTV News political analyst Scott Reid said Trudeau’s visit to the U.S. will be unique in that Trudeau and his staff are already quite familiar with Obama’s advisers, as the two teams have worked together for a number of years.

“There’s a political partnership between these folks,” Reid said. “I can’t help but suspect that those partnerships that have been knit over the course of the past number of years at a political level are now paying off, now that they’re in government.”

Despite those anticipated close relations between the Trudeau and Obama administrations, some have criticized the value of Trudeau making a state visit at the White House, with the current president’s last term winding down.

The U.S. will elect a new president in November, meaning Trudeau will have to get to know a new American leader when that person takes over the Oval Office in January. However, the PM’s visit to Washington could still be beneficial long-term, because it will allow Canadian officials to meet with U.S. lawmakers on many levels, including Congress, Reid said. Those relationships could translate into connections that will be helpful for negotiations down the road.

“It’s not just about who you can get on the line in the White House,” Reid said. “It’s also, who do you know in the Capitol?”

Conservatives are skeptical

Tony Clement, the Conservatives’ foreign affairs critic, said on Tuesday that he has “very low” expectations for the climate change discussions with the U.S. He told reporters outside the House of Commons that it is “unrealistic to suggest that there will be a meaningful policy dialogue.

“That’s the reality of the situation,” he said, adding that any major change will have to wait for the next president to take office.

Trudeau will be the ninth guest of honour at an Obama-hosted state dinner. Obama has previously hosted leaders from India, Mexico, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Japan and China (twice, for different leaders).