U.S. President Joe Biden has arrived in Canada, kicking off his short but long-awaited overnight official visit to Canada.
During his stay in the nation’s capital, Biden will meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and deliver an address to Parliament on Friday. But, he and first lady of the United States Jill Biden have some other events on their itineraries, where key Canada-U.S. issues and shared priorities will be discussed.
With many layers of preparation underway—from major security precautions and an increased presence of police, including U.S. Secret Service, RCMP, and provincial and local officers, as well as military aircraft in the skies, to extensive road closures—Biden’s brief trip will be a significant event in the cross-border relationship.
U.S. flags have been hung up throughout downtown, manhole covers have been forced shut, and the city is bracing for an influx of high-profile visitors.
“It’s quite a packed schedule for a short trip,” said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday. “This is a meaningful visit. Canada is one of the United States’ closest allies and friends, and has been now for more than 150 years. This will be the first true in-person bilateral meeting between the two leaders in Canada since 2009.”
Here’s what we’ve confirmed with senior government officials, and what the official White House program details about what is on the agenda, and what key players are saying about the upcoming visit.
THURSDAY, MARCH 23: BIDEN ARRIVES
The Bidens and the delegation travelling with the president landed in Ottawa on Air Force One on Thursday evening.
Biden was greeted by a welcoming delegation of officials:
Gov. Gen. Mary Simon
Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland
Treasury Board President Mona Fortier
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly
Foreign affairs parliamentary secretaries, Liberal MPs Rob Oliphant and Maninder Sidhu
United States Ambassador to Canada David Cohen
Chief of Protocol of Canada Stewart Wheeler
At 6:45 p.m. Biden met with the governor general inside the Canada Reception Centre at the Ottawa Airport. Simon’s husband Whit Fraser and the first lady were part of this meeting.
Then, Biden will be taken—in his infamous armoured limousine known as ‘The Beast’—to Rideau Cottage to meet with Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. Rideau Cottage is the prime minister’s current residence, located on the grounds at Rideau Hall, approximately seven kilometres northeast of Parliament Hill.
There, according to a senior Canadian government source, the two couples will “have an informal meeting.” Kirby called it an “intimate gathering.”
FRIDAY, MARCH 24: BIDEN’S BIG DAY
Friday is the main day of Biden’s visit, and it’s largely going to be spent on Parliament Hill.
Kicking off with an 11 a.m. welcoming ceremony inside West Block, the temporary home of the House of Commons, Biden will be greeted by a welcoming party that includes House of Commons clerks, the Usher of the Black Rod, Sergeant-at-Arms, and:
Senate Speaker George Furey
House Speaker Anthony Rota
Government Representative in the Senate Marc Gold
Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Yonah Martin
Facilitator of the Independent Senators Group Raymonde Saint-Germain
Deputy Leader of the Canadian Senators Group Dennis Glen Patterson
Deputy Leader of the Progressive Senate Group Pierre Dalphond
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May
At 11:20 a.m. POTUS will then have a bilateral meeting with Trudeau in his West Block office, followed by an extended meeting with ministers, taking place in the room where cabinet usually meets at 11:45 a.m.
It’s likely that the officials travelling with Biden would also take part. So far we know that his delegation includes: Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
The Canadian ministers accompanying Trudeau on Friday will be Freeland, Joly, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion Mary Ng, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson, and Defence Minister Anita Anand.
All of this will happen in the morning, before Biden’s speech to Parliament, which is scheduled to begin at 1:50 p.m. It’s customary for formal addresses from world leaders to include introductory and concluding remarks from parliamentary officials, and for the chamber to be filled with senators, dignitaries, and other key stakeholders or community members with relevant ties to whomever is speaking.
“In his remarks, the president will underscore how the U.S.-Canada partnership benefits not only our two countries, but the entire world. And, that by working together we can address some of the biggest challenges we face,” Kirby said.
Following his address—we’ll see how long it is, Obama’s in 2016 was approximately 50 minutes—Biden and Trudeau will make their way across the street from Parliament Hill, to the Sir John A Macdonald building, for a joint media availability at 3:45 p.m.
There, reporters from the parliamentary press gallery and those travelling from the White House press pool will be able to ask Biden and Trudeau about what was accomplished by the visit and whether there will be any concrete wins or policy moves made as a result.
At some point during his time on the Hill, Biden will have a pull-aside meeting with Poilievre, according to a senior U.S. official briefing reporters. Timing for when this will take place, or where he plans to have lunch, has not been released.
Rounding out his day, Biden, the first lady and the American delegation will attend a “gala dinner” hosted by Trudeau and his wife, that “a few hundred” guests are set to attend. That’s happening at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, approximately 11 kilometres east of Parliament Hill, at 6:30 p.m.
On the invite list: ambassadors past and present, business leaders, members of Parliament, senators, and representatives of Indigenous groups.
“It’ll be a real cross-section of Canada,” said one senior Canadian government official briefing reporters on a not-for-attribution basis about the trip.
Biden’s current departure time from the Ottawa Airport is 9:25 p.m. on Friday night.
So far neither the White House nor the Prime Minister’s Office have confirmed if there will be any impromptu stops during the trip, meaning we’ll all have to wait and see whether there will be another ‘Obama cookie’ moment — when then-U.S. President Barack Obama popped into a bakery in the Byward Market during his 2009 trip.
While the not-quite two-day trip may seem condensed, Trudeau officials told reporters that they are pleased with the amount of time Biden and Trudeau will have together, while noting that on his past trips, Obama did not stay overnight.
“One of our primary goals of the visit was hoping to be able to share as much time as possible between the two leaders. And that’s why we are very happy that president Biden is spending a day and half in Ottawa, which allows three different blocks for the prime minister and the president to spend time together… And that’s actually quite a lot of time, several hours where they can cover all the issues they need to cover,” said one senior government official.
WHAT WILL FLOTUS GET UP TO?
On Thursday, the Office of the First Lady of the United States released the details of what Jill Biden will get up to on Friday while POTUS is in meetings on Parliament Hill.
Starting at 11 a.m. the first lady will “participate in a spousal program” alongside Gregoire Trudeau. The pair will visit Canadian youth taking part in a curling program and will “host a conversation to discuss youth wellness and mental health.” This will be taking place at the Rideau Curling Club approximately 1.5 kilometres south west of Parliament Hill.
Then at 12:15 p.m. they will travel to the National Gallery near Parliament Hill to visit the “Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Moment” exhibit. At the gallery the two will take part in a luncheon before heading back to the Hill in time for the address to Parliament.
As aforementioned, FLOTUS will accompany Biden to the gala dinner, before taking off to spend the weekend in Wilmington, Delaware.
WHAT ARE THE BIG ISSUES SET TO COME UP?
Without diving into the nitty gritty of all the outstanding trade, economic, and cross-border irritants that could come up during the visit, the broad stroke topics that officials say will be discussed during the visit include:
North American continental and Arctic defence and related spending
Trade, supply chains, and the state of CUSMA/USMCA
Irregular migration and modernizing the Safe Third Country Agreement
Climate change and investing in the clean automotive sector
Addressing inflation and driving growth to create jobs
Threats to democracy such as domestic and foreign interference
Further support for Haiti and Ukraine
It remains to be seen how substantive of progress will be made on these issues, but typically visits of this sort conclude with some form of joint statement outlining any commitments made.
“The Canada-U.S. partnership is forged by shared geography, similar values, common interests, deep personal connections, and powerful economic ties that are critical for so many jobs and businesses in both of our countries,” said a senior Canadian government official.
“Throughout the day, the prime minister will highlight Canada’s partnership as a source of strength to the United States and our commitment to working closely together on the big serious challenges that we both face, as well as the world faces,” the official said.
Kirby said that the two leaders will also talk about stepping up to meet “the challenges of our time,” including “driving a global race to the top on clean energy, and building prosperous and inclusive economies.”
WHAT ARE KEY PLAYERS SAYING ABOUT THE TRIP?
Ahead of the visit, Trudeau, federal cabinet ministers and the leaders of the opposition parties outlined their expectations, the state of the Canada-U.S. relationship and what hot issues they want to see addressed.
Here’s some of what they’ve had to say.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
“We’re going to be talking about a lot of things. We will of course be talking about China, but the centre of our conversations will be about jobs and growth, critical minerals and fighting climate change, and continuing to build an economy across our continent that works for all of our citizens… I think the big message is just going to be how we can, and will be working together,” Trudeau said on his way into a Wednesday caucus meeting.
Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman:
“In some respects, I think [the Canada-U.S. relationship] did require rebuilding. I think that, you know, with the previous administration, as people know, we had some important successes, the renegotiation of NAFTA was, was very good. The early days of pandemic management I think was a real success between Canada and the U.S… But it wasn’t an administration that was that interested in working with allies to solve certain kinds of problems. Climate change wasn’t high on the priority list. They had some skepticism around NATO. And so, there were a lot of these sorts of things that we do together bilaterally, and things that we do together in the world that required a bit of care and attention,” she said in an interview on CTV’s News Channel on Wednesday, speaking about the post-Donald trump era of Canada-U.S. relations.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre:
“We all know that President Biden is coming this week to visit Canada. Our demands as Conservatives are very reasonable…. We want an end to softwood lumber tariffs so that our forestry workers can get bigger, more powerful, inflation-proof paycheques… We want an end to ‘Buy-America’ so that our construction workers get powerful paycheques … We want an end to the illegal border crossings at Roxham Road, and across the country… We will stand with the Americans for a stronger military and stronger continental defense to keep all of our people safe,” Poilievre said on his way into a Wednesday caucus meeting.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser:
“Our focus right now is trying to solve a problem and provide a lasting solution. Of course, I expect that there is going to be a lot of attention on all issues tied to the Canada-U.S. relationship, but my focus right now is on solving a challenge for the long-term… The precise nature of how we can help address the issue of irregular migration more broadly is something that we still have some work to do to sort out finally,” Fraser said on his way into a Wednesday caucus meeting about the Safe Third Country Agreement and the issues at Roxham Road.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh:
“The number one concern we have is about the approach of the IRA, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the ‘buy-American’ provisions… We are deeply concerned that the connection between Canada and America is so – we’re so interlinked that a ‘Buy-American’ provision for infrastructure could mean a serious negative blow to producers in Canada, to workers in Canada. And we want to make sure it’s a North American approach as opposed to a ‘Buy-American’ approach… We also want to see that Canada responds to the Inflation Reduction Act with real incentives in Canada to encourage and create jobs here to reduce our emissions and ensure there’s good paying jobs