WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s long-anticipated visit to the U.S. capital is finally underway.
Trudeau’s plane touched down Wednesday at Andrews Air Force Base to begin the three-day visit, which is being hosted by President Barack Obama, the State Department, American University and a group of think tanks.
A military band and guard of honour, along with a colour guard carrying both national flags, greeted the RCAF Airbus as it taxied to a stop.
David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, greeted Trudeau as he stepped off the plane.
The focal point of the visit comes Thursday when Trudeau and wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau attend a glitzy, star-studded state dinner at the White House – the first for a Canadian prime minister in nearly two decades.
Before leaving Ottawa, Trudeau told the House of Commons that warm relations with Washington are key to Canadian prosperity.
“Few relationships matter to Canada as much as a good relationship with the United States of America, for jobs, for economic growth, for trade purposes, for building the kinds of opportunities for Canadians right across the country that are truly needed,” he said.
“For 10 years, those relationships have been strained – and now we’re pleased to be able to re-engage on a broad range of important files to be able to build the kinds of opportunities for all Canadians that we know people need.”
The visit has already been heralded by celebrity-style news coverage, including a flattering profile on the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” and comparisons to John F. Kennedy.
One media report Tuesday quoted an anonymous White House official who described Trudeau as “dreamy.”
Indeed, whether on the record or off, there are clear indications that Trudeau’s arrival heralds a new era with the current – albeit outgoing – U.S. administration.
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“I think there is a developing special relationship between this president and prime minister,” said White House senior official Mark Feierstein.
Observers will be watching the meeting for progress on bilateral issues like climate change, border security and the long-standing dispute between the two countries over softwood lumber.
As is often the case with state dinners, much of the ado is about the menu.
It will feature Alaskan halibut “casseroles” with cepes, delicate angel hair asparagus, chanterelles, baby onions, and lardon and herbed butter, followed by roasted apricot galette with Appalachian cheese, heirloom lettuces and pine nut crisps.
The vegetables for the first course come from a farm in Ohio and the herbed butter is sourced from Michelle Obama’s White House kitchen garden.
The main course will consist of a herb-crusted lamb from Colorado, Yukon Gold potato dauphinoise and lightly sauteed spring vegetables.
“As a finishing touch, the dish is drizzled with Yukon Jack Canadian Whisky,” reads the menu.
For dessert, chefs will serve a maple pecan cake with cocoa nib wafer and butterscotch swirl ice cream. The state dinner will be held in the East Room of the White House, followed by a performance by singer and writer Sara Bareilles, a five-time Grammy nominee, in the State Dining Room.
While the Prime Minister’s Office is touting the trip as a sign of a warmer relationship between the two countries, Trudeau’s political opponents have suggested it’s more a matter of sizzle than steak.
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Conservative MP Tony Clement suggested that there’s little to be gained from a visit with a lame-duck president stymied by a hostile Congress.
“My hopes are very low,” Clement said.
During his trip, the prime minister will also attend a luncheon hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry and place a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.