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Four things on the agenda for Biden’s first trip to Canada as president

The Hill logo The Hill 3/23/2023 Brett Samuels
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President Biden is making his first trip across the northern border as president, seeking to bolster the U.S.-Canada alliance on issues like the war in Ukraine, migration and climate change.

Biden, who departs Thursday evening for Ottawa along with first lady Jill Biden, will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and address Canada’s parliament. The Bidens will also attend a private event at the prime minister’s residence while in the country’s capital.

The trip marks the first time a U.S. president has visited Canada since 2018, when then-President Trump abruptly left a Group of Seven gathering in Quebec while criticizing Trudeau amid a rift over tariffs.

Biden has visited Canada before, including in 2016 during his final year as vice president. When he returns this week, he and Trudeau will again emphasize the U.S.-Canada relationship in a bilateral meeting Friday, and then Biden will speak to members of Canada’s parliament.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the president plans to “underscore how the U.S.-Canada partnership benefits not only our two countries but the entire world, and that by working together, we can address some of the biggest challenges we face.”

Biden will also hold a press conference with Trudeau — something U.S. reporters have been clamoring for, to no avail, during foreign leader visits at the White House in recent months.

Here are four topics on the agenda for Biden’s trip:


Ukrainian soldiers fire a self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions near Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 7, 2023. © Provided by The Hill Ukrainian soldiers fire a self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions near Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 7, 2023.

Near the top of the agenda is expected to be the war in Ukraine.

Biden and Trudeau are among the Western leaders hoping to project unity and a firm commitment to backing Kyiv for as long as it takes to repel the invading Russian forces or reach a peace agreement.

Canada has provided more than $1 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia first invaded in February 2022, and the country has welcomed thousands of Ukrainian refugees.

Both Biden and Trudeau have been outspoken that their support for Ukraine will not waver, and a show of unity Friday could be critical in the wake of a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow that raised concerns that the two nations are strengthening their ties.

“I don’t think the president believes Prime Minister Trudeau needs to have a message delivered on supporting Ukraine,” Kirby said. “I mean, the Canadians have been right there with us since the very beginning.”

There appears to be enough bipartisan support with Biden in the White House and narrowly divided chambers of Congress to continue providing aid to Ukraine for the immediate future. But there is a growing split in the Republican Party over whether long-term support for Ukraine is in America’s interest, a divide that could roil allies down the road.


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Biden and Trudeau are also expected to discuss migration, which has become a growing concern for Canada. 

Canada reported nearly 40,000 migrants who crossed into the country in 2022, up from roughly 17,000 in 2019, the last year before the coronavirus pandemic, which significantly suppressed migrant crossings during the past two years.

“Without question, they’ll be talking about issues of migration, which affects us both,” Kirby said. “There are more people on the move in this hemisphere than there have been since World War II, and that affects both our countries.”

Biden and Trudeau are likely to discuss the state of the Safe Third Country Agreement, a pact from the early 2000s that allows asylum-seekers who enter Canada outside of regular crossing points along the U.S. border to remain in the country until they receive a hearing.

Trudeau told reporters this week that he hoped to have an announcement soon on potential changes to that agreement, according to The New York Times.


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U.S. officials said there is “no question” Haiti will be on the agenda when Biden and Trudeau meet, with the two leaders seeking the best path forward to stabilize the island nation.

The United Nations has called for a multinational peacekeeping mission to be sent to Haiti to help restore order, and the Biden administration has suggested Canada should lead that effort. National security adviser Jake Sullivan previously told reporters Canada had expressed interest in a leadership role.

Trudeau has acknowledged the worsening situation in Haiti, where more than 500 people have been killed in gang-related incidents so far this year, according to U.N. But Trudeau is leading a minority government, making the political dynamics around taking the lead on deploying a peacekeeping force complicated for the prime minister.

“I think they will continue to talk about ways we can continue to support, from a humanitarian assistance perspective, the people of Haiti and Haitian national security forces,” Kirby told reporters Wednesday. “As for, you know, a multinational force or anything like that … I don’t want to get ahead of the conversation here. But as we’ve said before, if there’s a need for that, if there’s a place for that, that’s all going to have to be worked out directly with the Haitian government and with the U.N.”

Climate change

Heat wave on farm. © Provided by The Hill Heat wave on farm.

Biden and Trudeau have been closely aligned on efforts to reduce emissions and promote clean energy, and the two leaders are expected to highlight those measures on Friday.

Kirby said “energy security” will be on the agenda, as well as determining how to best combat climate change. A main focus of the conversation will likely be the U.S.’s implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed last year with only Democratic votes.

The legislation provides $27 billion in climate funding to be used to promote clean energy sources like solar power.

The law has rattled some U.S. allies in Europe because of its billions of dollars in incentives for electric vehicles and clean energy technologies that apply to American companies. But Canada and Mexico, through a separate trade agreement, are largely included in those subsidies.

Canada, meanwhile, has enacted plans to reduce emissions by at least 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to have net-zero emissions by 2050.

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