Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor highlight guest list for Trudeau-Biden gala dinner
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre attended following uncertainty around his invitation
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were among the many guests attending Friday night's gala dinner welcoming U.S. President Joe Biden to Canada.
The president and his wife Jill Biden were guests of honour at a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau at the Aviation Museum in Ottawa.
Bloomberg News was the first to report that Kovrig and Spavor were invited to the dinner. Their attendance was later confirmed by CBC News with a senior government source.
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Kovrig and Spavor were detained by Chinese officials in December 2018 — not long after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on behalf of U.S. authorities. The two men spent more than 1,000 days in prison before being released in September 2021. The two were given a standing ovation in the House of Commons just before Biden's parliamentary address on Friday afternoon.
Kovrig and Spavor joined a guest list that included former prime ministers, ambassadors and Canadian celebrities.
A guest list provided by the Prime Minister's Office [PMO] said all former prime ministers were invited but only Jean Chrétien and Joe Clark attended.
Speaking to CBC News outside the gala event, Clark — who was also present for Biden's parliamentary address — said the standing ovation in the House was an "emotional moment."
"I think none of us could avoid thinking about how hard their long isolation must have been," the former prime minister said. "So it was a celebration of their liberty."
WATCH | Kovrig and Spavor receive standing ovation in House of Commons
Former U.S. ambassadors to Canada Bruce Heyman, James Blanchard, Gordon Giffin and David Jacobson and former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton were in attendance.
All current opposition leaders are attended. There was some uncertainty earlier in the day over whether Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre would be at the event; his office confirmed his attendance Friday afternoon.
The PMO said all opposition leaders received an invitation but Poilievre didn't respond to his. Poilievre's office later said he hadn't received an invitation.
The PMO provided CBC with a screen shot of the invitation sent to Poilievre's personal parliamentary email account, but the Tory leader's team said the account is defunct and questioned why an invitation wasn't passed along through staff members.
Biden and Trudeau were led into the gala event by two RCMP officers dressed in full regalia. Both leaders gave a toast ahead of the meal.
Speaking at a podium set up for the event, Trudeau raised a glass to the history and future of Canada and U.S.
"To shared history and to shared hope. To shared prosperity and to shared peace and security that binds Canada and the United States together as allies, as neighbours and — most importantly — as true friends," the prime minister said.
Not to be outdone, the president told those gathered in attendance that Canada and the U.S. are "more like family."
"If we have the strength and the courage and we stick together as family we can make hope and history rhyme," Biden said before raising his glass. "To family. To Canada and the United States."
Trudeau stood up from his table and walked to the podium to clink glasses with Biden as the president finished his toast.
The guest list appeared to put an emphasis on the importance of trade between the two countries — especially the CUSMA deal that came into effect in the summer of 2020. Members of Trudeau's advisory council during the CUSMA negotiations — including former Conservative cabinet ministers Rona Ambrose and James Moore — were on hand.
Métis dancers, Inuit throat singers, and an Algonquin drum group provided entertainment at the reception.
Among the celebrity guests invited were comedians Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara of Schitt's Creek fame and Mark Critch of CBC's This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Musical talents such as Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea and Charlotte Cardin will were in attendance.
On their way into the event, Levy and O'Hara spoke to CBC about the relationship between Canada and the U.S.
"We've been fortunate because we've experienced the best of both worlds," Levy said. "They're kind of inseparable for me."
The catering team from the National Arts Centre took the president on a cross-country culinary tour.
The meal, put together by executive chef Kenton Leier, featured ingredients such as East Coast yellowfin tuna, Alberta beef, flaxseed, Quebec maple syrup and Yukon gold potatoes.
The three courses also included a cabernet sauvignon jus made with wine from Pelee Island Winery in Kingsville, Ont., and a rum caramel made from Newfoundland's famous Screech rum.
Because this wasn't an official state dinner, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and her husband, Whit Fraser, were relieved of hosting duties — though both were in attendance.
With files from The Canadian Press and Travis Dhanraj