Justin Trudeau and the Canadians of Washington

It was a miniature reunion for the Canadian diaspora who greeted Justin Trudeau at a Washington event

Thursday will be all business—meeting at the White House, meeting at the State Department, the pomp of a state dinner—but Wednesday night in Washington was like old home week for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Fresh from his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau attended a reception at the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery, a block from the White House. The 300-odd guests were, overwhelmingly, Canadian, invited by the Ottawa-based Canada 2020 think tank, whose president, Tom Pitfield, grew up on Parliament Hill with Justin Trudeau when Pitfield’s father, Michael, was working as clerk of the Privy Council for Trudeau’s father, Pierre. Many of the guests had travelled to Washington from as far away as Vancouver for this week’s events. Most are Liberal, if they have any party affiliation, although I did spot Mulroney-era cabinet minister Perrin Beatty. The Americans were, for the most part, current (Bruce Heyman) or former (David Wilkins, Gordon Giffin) U.S. ambassadors to Ottawa. The finger-food menu included sliders and smoked meat.

Related: A peek at state dinners of the past

In brief impromptu remarks to the crowd, Trudeau discussed “the very real challenges” facing the world. His list included “climate change, a stalling middle class” and “wrapping our minds around the globalization that is both extremely challenging and rife with opportunities.” When the going gets rough, he said, “it becomes easy to become fearful. It becomes easy to turn in on ourselves. But we know from history that it’s much more important to turn outward and to draw out the best of each other.”

There might be people in Washington who’ve seen recent news reports about Canada’s new federal government “and thought, ‘That was it,’ ” Trudeau added, tongue in cheek. ” ‘Canada’s a happy place and everyone’s progressive and everyone’s a feminist and everyone hugs pandas all day.’ But we have real challenges just like every other country around the world. We have good days and bad days. We have voices that are pulling us in all sorts of different directions, including our own voices and the voices of our friends.”

Related: The stakes of the state dinner

To face the challenges of the years ahead, “the entire world needs this continent to be at its very best,” he said. “To be at its most generous, to be at its wisest, to be at its most innovative … A model for the world can be this tremendous friendship between Canada and the United States.”

It wasn’t a program, just a few good wishes for permanent and transiting denizens of Washington’s odd Canadian colony. The real work—and a few announcements both the Canadians and the Americans have been remarkably diligent about keeping under wraps—will come on Thursday.