Trudeau visit makes for hot tickets in Washington this week

A U.S. state dinner is a glamorous and exclusive gathering of the powerful and interesting, a fabled sort of event with the world's most powerful office as its backdrop. And not surprisingly, demand for tickets to this week's dinner is said to be akin to Game 7 of a Toronto-Montreal Stanley Cup final.

White House dinner a tight affair, but side events offer the chance for well-connected invitees to mingle

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, will welcome Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the White House this Thursday for a bilateral meeting and a state dinner. Invites are scarce for the dinner — and it's not the only hot ticket for Trudeau's state visit. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

A state dinner is a glamorous and exclusive gathering of the powerful and interesting, a fabled sort of event with the world's most powerful office as its backdrop. And there would seem to be some demand for a precious pass to the first state dinner for a Canadian prime minister in nearly 20 years.

One government source recently likened the demand for tickets to Thursday evening's state dinner at the White House for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. Entreaties for an invitation have apparently come "fast and furious."

"There has been a huge amount of demand," says another government source. "Huge."

Good hockey tickets are at least slightly easier to come by.

Different venues have been used for state dinners of various sizes. The Prime Minister's Office was given 20 invitations to distribute and some of those will go to Canada's official delegation.

The prime minister will be accompanied by his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, and joined by Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo, as well as some number of staff. Ministers' spouses will not be attending the dinner.

A full guest list likely won't be released until closer to the event.

A state dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012, which numbered 360 people, included actors George Clooney, Idris Elba and Carey Mulligan, as well as golfer Rory McIlroy and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, in addition to American politicians and officials. After-dinner entertainment was provided by Mumford & Sons and John Legend.

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In 1997, when Bill Clinton hosted Jean Chrétien at the most recent state dinner for a Canadian prime minister, officials such as U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright and federal reserve chairman Alan Greenspan dined with comedian Howie Mandel, actor Dan Ackroyd and pianist Diana Krall.

Members of Congress, meet The Weeknd

But if not dinner, there are invitations to be had to the other two events on the official schedule: a state lunch Thursday afternoon hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the welcoming ceremony on the south lawn of the White House on Thursday morning.

The demand for tickets extends beyond the official program though.

On Wednesday evening, Canada 2020, a think-tank based in Ottawa, will co-host a reception for Trudeau at Washington's Renwick Art Gallery. Approximately 450 people are on the guest list so far, but the waiting list to get in is said to be "a mile long."

"We saw it as an opportunity to convene Canadians and Americans who wanted to celebrate the new prime minister around a historic event, so that people could meet each other and develop relationships," says Tom Pitfield, the new president of Canada 2020 and a key figure in last year's Liberal election campaign (he is also married to Liberal party president Anna Gainey).

"Not everybody will get invited to the state dinner so this is an opportunity to provide a venue for those people to do that."

Guests for the reception are expected to include senior officials from the Obama administration, members of the U.S. Congress, American ambassador Bruce Heyman, Grammy-winning singer The Weeknd, American journalist and commentator Chris Matthews and comedian Mark Critch of CBC's This Hour Has 22 Minutes.

On Friday, Canada 2020 is co-hosting a lunch with the prime minister that is expected to include 200 people. On both events, Canada 2020 is collaborating with the Center for American Progress, the American think-tank founded by John Podesta, a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton and co-chair of Barack Obama's transition team in 2008.

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Aaron Wherry

Senior writer

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Promise & Peril, a book about Justin Trudeau's years in power.


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