The House

In House: From Vancouver to Washington, D.C.

From Vancouver to Washington... After meeting with the country's Premiers this week to talk about climate change, the Prime Minister is about to head to Washington, D.C., for a state dinner with President Obama. In House panellists Rosemary Barton and Alex Boutilier look at what was achieved this week, and what is on the menu for next week.
Justin Trudeau heads to the White House next week. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

From Vancouver to Washington... After meeting with the country's Premiers this week to talk about climate change, the Prime Minister is about to head to Washington, D.C., for a state dinner with President Obama.

In House panellists Rosemary Barton, host of CBC's Power and Politics, and Alex Boutilier, political reporter for the Toronto Star, look at what was achieved this week, and what is on the menu for next week.

Chris Hall: What came out of the meetings in Vancouver?

Rosemary Barton: It would be overly cynical of me to say that nothing came out of it, and they are only deciding to meet again. I mean that's sort of what happened, but I think there were positive developments. Certainly the rock is being pushed up the hill rather than rolling back down. I think they went as far as they could in this first meeting without blowing the whole thing apart, without people storming off in a huff, and they've come up with a plan to sit down again and see what they can hash out.

My concern for the federal government would be that six months from now they're going to run up against the same problem. But it would seem that this is an area where the Prime Minister really wants to lay it on the line and this is going to be one of those things that matters to him and if he has to go the route of imposing a carbon price as had been hinted at earlier this week, then that's what's going to happen. Maybe he's buying himself some time to go around and convince people quietly.

Alex Boutilier: Canada's targets are Canada's targets, and the Federal government has a responsibility to meet them, or explain why they didn't. I think in one sense that this meeting was a success for the Liberals because, as Rosie said, nobody stormed out. Fourteen adults got around a table and recognized a problem and talked about how to deal with it. On the other hand, I think the stakes are very high six months from now particularly because this is a high priority for this government, and a priority for this Prime Minister.

So it'll be very interesting to see in six months what they decide, specifically around the carbon pricing issue. They talked about mechanisms for carbon pricing that take into account the specific circumstances of different provinces. Whether that means, okay we'll take into account the work that you've done or we're going to give you an option to weasel out of a hard sort of price on carbon, that remains to be seen and that'll be the big test six months from now.

Rosemary Barton: I guess it's a leadership thing. It's a vision thing, and Canada has to meet the targets with the help of the provinces, but ultimately it's the federal government who's responsible. It's still not clear to me what that role will look like. You've got a bunch of people doing things already and the federal government saying "We're back. We're here. We've got things to do," without really being able to articulate what their contribution is for the people who are already doing things.

Alex Boutilier: But at the same time they have a set pool of money for green infrastructure investment, however you want to define that. That pool is set. It'll be up to the provinces to compete in a way to say "here's why we deserve a slice of that, and here's why we deserve this much of a slice of that." I think it's a very good carrot for the provinces to get together and say "we've got our act together on this, here's how we're going to move forward together."

CH: Obviously a big week coming up, a State Dinner with Barak Obama, meetings on Capitol Hill. On a practical basis, what are you looking for, for Justin Trudeau to get from the US from this visit?

Rosemary Barton: What's going to happen is that he and his Ministers and all the other people who are going there are going to start laying down some really important relationships, and building on those relationships, whether it be on Capitol Hill , whether it be at the White House, whether it be people behind the scenes that we don't know about. And everyone that I've talked to in the last week or so has talked to me about the importance of that. They believe that this is a moment to get Canada back on the map in a real way, because of the interest in a large part because of our Prime Minister, and to start building those relationships that are going to make a difference over the next four years, whether Obama is there or not, that's why they are going to meet other people.

Alex Boutilier: As much as I can't believe that I'm going to say this, it's much more important to think about how he would, the Prime Minister would interact with a President Trump, or a President Cruz, or a President Clinton on the other side, than it is for the relationship between Trudeau and Obama personally, which seems to a quite warm one.

That said, I think barring some huge diplomatic gaffe, this can only be good for Canada-US relations. This is the first time in what, two decades that we've had a state dinner. You can call it a fancy party but it is about those meetings, it is about getting face time, and the other thing I would add is the interview on 60 Minutes reaches tens of millions of Americans and that's going to be a big icebreaker for the Canadian Prime Minister.

CH: What is it specifically that you think might come out of this that would be the headline come Friday of next week?

Rosemary Barton: Climate change. I mean that's an obvious thing. They both want this to be sort of legacy things. Obama's time is running out, Trudeau's time is just beginning, we've talked about it. So they'll find a way to re-engage on that, whether it be the continental agreement or what have you. And border stuff... I think border security. There are some gives that Canada can make, places where the US has been waiting for us to do some things around exit-entry. That I think concretely would be something too.

Alex Boutilier: Yeah, absolutely on the border file. Lots been accomplished over the last few years between the previous Conservative government and the Obama administration on entry-exit, beyond the border writ large. But I know that the Americans still want more.They're still very interested in that file, but I agree with you the environment is going to the headline on the communique anyway. This is a legacy issue for Obama and this is something that Trudeau obviously considers serious priority.