Skip to content

Trudeau hopes to advance policy as pomp surrounds Biden’s whirlwind visit to Ottawa

Green energy, migration and Haiti expected to be among the topics up for discussion
U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrive at Ottawa/Macdonald–Cartier International Airport ahead of an official state visit in Ottawa, Thursday, March 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

The pomp and circumstance of a presidential visit will give way Friday to a series of talks about green energy, migration and Haiti as U.S. President Joe Biden heads to Parliament Hill.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to greet Biden late Friday morning for a welcoming ceremony at West Block.

Dignitaries from the House of Commons and Senate, including the Speakers from each chamber and the leaders of each elected party and most Senate groups, are set to join them.

Biden and Trudeau plan to then have a bilateral meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office. They will also then meet with senior federal cabinet ministers in the room where they typically craft major policy decisions. Some members of Biden’s own cabinet may also take part.

The two countries have already agreed in principle to fortify immigration rules that have led to a spike in the number of people slipping across their shared border in order to claim asylum in Canada.

The rules currently allow either country to turn back asylum seekers from outside the U.S. or Canada who try to make a claim at an official entry point. The changes would extend those rules to cover unofficial crossings as well.

A draft order posted Friday in the U.S. Federal Register describing details of the proposed “supplement” to the existing Safe Third Country Agreement, as it’s known, says it would take effect Saturday.

That supplement, known as the “Additional Protocol of 2022,” would “extend the STCA’s application … to individuals who cross between the official (points of entry) along the U.S.-Canada shared border, including certain bodies of water.”

The change would not physically close off unofficial crossings such as Roxham Road, between Quebec and New York, but serve as a disincentive to crossing there or anywhere else along the 8,900-kilometre frontier.

The streets in front of Parliament were quiet early Friday morning as police prepared for a spectacle big enough to draw celebrities to the city, but disruptive enough to keep morning commuters at home.

Barricades of fences, police and their vehicles surround Parliament Hill, and only those with special passes are allowed in.

Some people gathered to watch Biden’s motorcade arrive Thursday night but others took advantage of the empty downtown to play soccer in the street.

Canadian actor Eugene Levy was also in town for the event, saying he had been invited to attend Biden’s dinner at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum on Friday night.

The presidential flight included at least 18 officials and aides, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Shortly before 2 p.m. eastern time, Biden is set to address the House of Commons, which is expected to be packed with prominent Canadians.

Biden and Trudeau are to then cross the street in front of Parliament Hill and hold a press conference at the Sir John A. Macdonald building.

Senior U.S. administration officials have also said that Biden plans to have what is known as a “pull-aside” conversation with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, and to exchange pleasantries with other party leaders. It is unclear when that might occur.

First lady Jill Biden will have a separate program alongside Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.

In the evening, the Bidens are expected to join the Trudeaus and other high-profile guests for a dinner at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

The brief visit has prompted layers of security throughout the capital, with the RCMP, U.S. Secret Service and provincial police stationed across the parliamentary precinct and around the two airports closest to the city.

Roads are closed and official planes have been circling over the city in preparation for a whirlwind 27-hour visit with lots on the bilateral agenda.

Canada is pushing to have Biden reconsider the Buy American doctrine, in which Washington enacts policies aimed at shoring up domestic industry at the expense of foreign companies, including those bound by the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement that replaced NAFTA.

The two will also discuss green energy and collaboration on projects like electric vehicles, as a massive U.S. spending package puts pressure on the Liberals to implement costly corporate subsidies.

Both sides say they also want to discuss the gang crisis in Haiti, an impoverished Caribbean nation where a political vacuum has led to roving gangs, a cholera outbreak and more Haitians claiming asylum in the U.S.

The Biden administration has said Canada should consider the request of Haiti’s de facto government to lead a military intervention to clear out the gangs, but Trudeau has argued that past military deployments haven’t stemmed violence in the country.

After months of pushing at the United Nations for a multinational force, American officials said this week that it might not be what Haiti needs.

—Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Biden visit puts Canadian defence spending, Norad modernization back under microscope

READ MORE: Firm handshakes, hard lines: Trudeau, Biden to talk protectionism, Haiti, migration