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Cross-Border Bro-Down: Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau Meet in DC

The last time there was this much fanfare about Canadians coming to Washington, it was two centuries ago and they tried to burn down the White House.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
Photo by Rex/Shutterstock.

The last time there was this much fanfare about Canadians coming to Washington, it was two centuries ago and they tried to burn down the White House.

This time, things were a little more jovial.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blew into the capital on Wednesday, kicking off a week of back-slapping and friendly announcements, as the countries finally find themselves on the same page — even if it's only for a brief time.

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Trudeau's official visit is the first for a Canadian prime minister in nearly twenty years, and drew hundreds of spectators, some of whom lined up for two hours to catch a glimpse of the young leader, who has been fawned over around the world since he took office last year. In Canada, the pomp and circumstance was live-streamed by all the major media outlets, and lit up Twitter under the #PMJTinDC.

"From my perspective, what's not to like?" Obama told reporters on the grounds of the White House Rose Garden.

He'll host Trudeau at a state dinner this evening which features a slew of high profile Americans, including Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Canadian actors Michael J. Fox and Ryan Reynolds, along with politicians from both sides of the border.

(Photo by Rex/Shutterstock) 

The last time a Canadian prime minister was hosted at a state dinner visit in the United States was 1997.

Since then, the relationship has been less than stellar. Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, his successor, butted heads with George W. Bush over the Iraq war and a litany of other files, while Stephen Harper, the conservative who endlessly needled the White House over approving Keystone XL, didn't warm up to neither Bush, nor Obama.

The Harper administration was said to have placed Obama's hand-picked ambassador to Canada in the dog house, refusing to deal with him on virtually anything. Perhaps fittingly, Harper also had an affinity with commemorating the War of 1812, which saw English troops defending what is now Canada, and eventually invading parts of America in brief incursions. One of those raids, which set fire to much of the capital including the White House, saw British troops occupy Washington, DC for just over a day.

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Now that Trudeau is in, Obama is heading out — and looking for legacy projects. With Keystone dead, the working relationship has immediately improved. Obama has even managed to ferret out commitments from Canada that Ottawa has long fought against, like entry and exit information-sharing, which will require Canada to hand over information on its citizens when they cross the border.

But the two are also natural allies. They are both in the Keynesian camp of the G20 — the faction that believe deficit spending and infrastructure projects are needed to kickstart a flagging economy — while both of their predecessors pushed for austerity and balanced budgets.

The bro-fest of their relationship goes beyond policy, however. The two appear to actually, genuinely like each other.

There are Canadian in our midst, says Obama. 'They sneak up on ya'

He's found us out. Code Tango. I repeat, this is a Code Tango. — Justin Ling (@Justin_Ling)March 10, 2016

Obama delivering sick hockey burns. Damaging, hurtful, unpresidential hockey burns. — Justin Ling (@Justin_Ling)March 10, 2016

As the ceremonial guard stood in place and hundreds of spectators looked on, armed with miniature American and Canadian flags, Obama and Trudeau traded hockey jokes.

"There are some things we will never agree on. Whose beer is better? Who's better at hockey?" Obama told the crowd as Trudeau, standing on the stage behind Obama, wagged his finger. "Where's the Stanley Cup right now?"

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The Cup still resides with last year's winners: the Chicago Blackhawks. The jab was particularly searing as not a single Canadian team — Trudeau's  Montreal Canadiens included — have made the playoffs this year.

"As an exporting nation, Canada is always eager to work closely to reduce trade barriers between our countries," Trudeau said at the podium, barely containing a grin. "And, speaking of exports, we know with certainty that there is a demand for Canadian goods down here."

.— CSPAN (@cspan)March 10, 2016

Trudeau proceeded to list off the names of Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Patrick Sharp — just three of the Canadians who play for the Blackhawks.

As Obama and Trudeau toured the ceremonial guard, Michelle Obama and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau chatted. The two spouses later hosted a luncheon on girls' education worldwide, in which the first lady introduced her guest as "my soulmate right now."

"We've already gotten into trouble," she joked.

There is no relationship in the world quite like the Canada-US relationship. — Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau)March 10, 2016

The week included plenty of social events, including the formality-heavy state dinner. But the real party was at the Renwick Gallery on Wednesday night, where Trudeau and a gaggle of his ministers rubbed elbows with various Washington types, ate Montreal smoked meat, and drank Canadian whisky.

The party even drew out Ontario-born The Weeknd, who told one reporter that he thought Trudeau was "unbelievable."

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thank you for inviting me to this historical evening. honor to witness this moment my friend and PM — The Weeknd (@theweeknd)March 10, 2016

As is the custom for state events like this, the Trudeaus brought gifts for the Obama family.

When Harper was prime minister, gifts included a painting depicting a naval scene from 1813, a wooden bowl, and a basketball.

This time, the Trudeaus went all out.

The president received a stone sculpture from a northern Alberta Aboriginal artist from Trudeau himself; Michelle Obama was given a beaded cape designed by a Mohawk artist from an Aboriginal community near Montreal, gifted from Grégoire-Trudeau; Obama's daughters got stylish scarves from an Ottawa designer; while Bo and Sunny, the Obamas' dogs, receive pairs of "Muttluks" dog boots.

"Today, Muttluks dog boots are worn by working dogs around the world," reads a backgrounder from the Prime Minister's Office.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling