Trudeau, Obama to link economy, environment at state dinner

Canada and U.S. will affirm their economic relationship in tandem with tackling climate change

Thursday’s state dinner in Washington will allow Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama to make a strong statement linking the environment and the economy, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion says.

The economic downturn in Europe, Japan and China, as well as in the BRIC countries of Russia and Brazil, makes it imperative that Canada and the United States affirm their economic relationship in tandem with tackling climate change, Dion told The Canadian Press on Monday evening.

“There is a way to bring the economy and the environment together that both of them have identified as a priority,” Dion said in an interview.

“The exact way they will do it: you will discover it,” the minister added, saying that it’s “not a coincidence” that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna will be part of Trudeau’s official delegation at the White House on Thursday.

Dion said the environment and border issues as well as some high-level politicking on a new softwood lumber deal would play out during Thursday’s events. Dion declined to give specifics, clearly intending not to spoil whatever Obama and Trudeau may want to tout as an announcement from their gala evening.

It’s the first time a Canadian prime minister has been feted with a state dinner at the White House since 1997, when Dion’s former boss, Jean Chretien, was in power.

The countries are working towards announcements on multiple fronts: a slew of climate-change initiatives, new border-security measures, and some possible steps in the hope of avoiding a new softwood-lumber dispute.

Some skeptics have warned that some of these issues may be leftovers from the old government, simply incremental steps in processes already underway.

One example is a new personal information-sharing plan that would allow the countries to keep track when travellers exit either country by land, an announcement government sources say could happen Thursday.

It would be a new phase in an initiative announced five years ago _ the Beyond the Border plan, whose myriad components included setting up an integrated Canada-U.S. system for tracking entry and exit.

Dion refused to discuss specifics, except to say border issues would feature prominently in Thursday’s talks.

“It’s always a bit the same: we want to focus on trade, but they want to focus on security. But we care about security and they care about trade, so if we work hard and well, we’ll see results.”

Dion said talks are underway on striking a new softwood lumber deal between the two countries. He’s raised the issue, and so have Trudeau and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The nine-year agreement between Canada and the U.S. expired in October, bringing a truce in the recurring disagreement over whether Canadian lumber producers are unfairly subsidized through cheap access to public land.

There’s a one-year grace period before U.S. companies and Congress are in a position to file lawsuits and table punitive legislation.

“It will be part of the agenda of course,” Dion said. “Why not solve it right away?”

He said Canadians have to address the fact they are more focused on the issue than the Americans.

“We want to make sure they are well aware at a high-level of the U.S. administration of the necessity to have free trade, including for softwood.”

Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement said anything Trudeau and Obama announce will never see the light of day in the U.S. because the president is in his final year.

“He cannot get things through Congress. They will not co-operate with him,” Clement said Monday. “So for Justin Trudeau to wave a piece of paper in his hand and say to the Canadian population, ‘I have a strategy that will be implemented with the United States,’ is pure fiction.”

Earlier Monday, Trudeau faced pressure in a town hall meeting with the Huffington Post to denounced Donald Trump, the controversial Republican presidential candidate.

Trudeau largely steered clear, but did say Americans should have a conversation about campaign financing once the “dust settles” on the presidential election.

“I’m not going to pick a fight with Donald Trump right now. I’m not going to support him either, obviously.”

U.S. presidential candidates raise billions in financing and court special interests, something Trudeau says Canada does not allow.

“One of the things that we did over the past decades was change the role of money in our politics,” he said when asked to discuss the differences between Canada and U.S. politics.

That includes a cap on individual donations, and no corporate or union donations, he added.

“That changes the entire structure around politics and the obligations of fundraising for incumbents and the power of special interests and lobbyists,” Trudeau said.

“When the dust settles after November, however it settles, a conversation about the role of campaign financing in establishing a successful democracy is, I think, going to be merited.”

Trudeau said many Americans are angry with their politics and “seem to be acting out or lashing out.”