Trudeau-Obama bromance's real prize comes with the world watching: Chris Hall

The budding friendship — between a prime minister who's just starting out and the two-term president closing in on the end of his time in power — means that their commitments to have Canada and the U.S. work together on major files are at the top of the 'let's-get-this-done' list.

As for policy, the climate change file gets a huge boost, softwood not so much

Obama and Trudeau state dinner toasts

8 years ago
Duration 1:30
Pleasantries exchanged, but not without a few friendly jabs

Let's start with the obvious from the prime minister's visit to Washington.

Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama like each other. They have a lot in common. And this friendship — between a prime minister who's just starting out and the two-term president closing in on the end of his time in power — means that their commitments to have Canada and the U.S. work together on major files are at the top of the "let's-get-this-done" list.

As expected, the two leaders announced their governments will work together to confront climate change, to protect the Arctic and to promote innovation and alternatives to oil and other carbon-based fuels.

The two countries will also work to further harmonize regulations that will, according to the release, "promote economic growth and benefits to our consumers and businesses."

They also agreed to streamline the movement of people and cargo across the border. That means pre-clearance at more airports and train stations.

President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, first lady Michelle Obama and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau wave from the Truman Balcony during a state arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of White House in Washington, Thursday, March 10, 2016. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

Those are important gets for Canada, to encourage more traffic back and forth across an already busy border, to expedite the movement of goods to the growing-again consumer markets in the U.S.

The deal also gives the Americans what they want.

More information will be available about who's coming and going from Canada and the U.S., including, for the first time, the sharing of information about Canadian and American citizens who cross the border. (Canadian privacy experts have warned that the practice could intrude on individual privacy rights.)

The leaders did announce they will create a Canada-U.S. Redress Working Group to make it easier for citizens to get off no-fly lists.

Trudeau's Friday agenda

  • Concluded: Lays a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.

  • 10:30 a.m. ET: Q&A at American University.

  • 12 p.m. ET: Trudeau speaks at a Canada2020 lunch event (CBC News will livestream).

CBC News Network's Power & Politics with Rosemary Barton is broadcasting live from Washington at 5 to 7 p.m. ET. This weekend, listen to CBC Radio's The House with host Chris Hall on Saturday at 9 a.m. (9:30 in Newfoundland and Labrador) — or listen to the The House midweek podcast to get a preview now.

Mutual admiration society

As new friends are prone to do, the leaders focused on all the good stuff that came out of Thursday's official visit and state dinner.

Obama, as is his wont, was expansive in his welcome. The words flowed as only they can from a gifted orator.

There were good-natured barbs about the weather, about Chicago holding the Stanley Cup. And, yes, about the grey hair Trudeau is going to have some day. But Obama's theme was this:

"Mr. Prime Minister, your election and the first few months in office have brought a new energy and dynamism not only to Canada but to the relationship between our nations.  

"We have a common outlook on the world. And I have to say, I have never seen so many Americans so excited about the visit of a Canadian prime minister."

Trudeau was just as effusive in describing how he's tapped into the wisdom of his more experienced counterpart.

"I'm always pleased to hear from President Obama about how he's dealt with difficult issues of the past because he is a man of both tremendous heart and tremendous intellect."

And Trudeau returned the favour of being the first Canadian prime minister in nearly 20 years to be the guest of honour at a White House state dinner by inviting Obama to address Parliament later this spring.

That would make him the first U.S. president to do so since 1995. George W. Bush was invited in May 2003, but cancelled due to the invasion of Iraq, which the Chrétien government did not support.

Buddies in good times

Historians and former prime ministers have always touted the benefits of a close working relationship between the leaders of our two countries.

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, stand for the playing of national anthems during an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on March 10, 2016. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan, bonding over their common Irish ancestry, were able to conclude a treaty to combat acid rain, a condition that was more of a scourge to Canada.

Jean Chrétien and Bill Clinton are another pair whose time together in office led to closer ties and agreements that benefited both countries. While Stephen Harper and George W. Bush achieved peace, albeit temporary, over softwood lumber.

So, just how beneficial is this emerging friendship between Obama and Trudeau likely to be?

For Trudeau, the benefits are already obvious. The president may be entering his final 10 months in office, but that's enough time for the two of them to push this mutual agenda on climate change, regulatory co-operation and border security.

This official visit has put Canada on the map, here in Washington and overseas. Obama may be a lame duck, as his opponents say, but this duck still flies when it comes to international attention.

There are political benefits back in Canada, too. Obama is still a favourite among progressive voters in Canada. Two days spent in Washington, awash in praise from the president, is not a problem for Trudeau back home. It's a bonus.

That's not to say this visit is totally win-win.

Another trade war looms over softwood lumber with the expiration of the deal negotiated under Harper and Bush. And there was no solution here this week.

Trudeau and Obama handed the file over to their respective trade ministers who have 100 days to come up with ways to address the issue.

And the desire to make good on the ambitious promises both leaders made in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to build a North American industry of green technologies and renewable energy, remains mostly an ideal, not a reality.

But that reality check is months away. For now, Trudeau and Obama have an ideal setting. Two friends. Working together on shared goals. And mutual self-interest.

Former ambassadors on U.S. - Canada relations

8 years ago
Duration 9:33
How best to navigate the cross-border relationship? Three former U.S. ambassadors share advice.


Chris Hall

Former National Affairs Editor

Now retired, Chris Hall was the CBC's national affairs editor and host of The House on CBC Radio, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998.