Trudeau in Washington for summit on nuclear safety

Trip begins this morning with a question-answer session at the United States Chamber of Commerce

US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meet in the Oval office at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 10, 2016. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on March 10, 2016. (Nicholas Kamm, AFP, Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promoting the federal budget to an American business audience this morning.

He’s touting his middle-class tax cuts and plans to boost infrastructure spending, in a speech across the street from the White House.

The prime minister is addressing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — a group closely aligned with the big-business wing of the Republican party, which favours tax cuts and infrastructure spending.

His speech did not mention the less-desired aspects of the new budget: the increased deficits and absence of a timeframe to return to a balanced budget.

But he did emphasize the middle-class tax cut and the new child benefit, targeted to families that need it most.

“If you want to know what my government sees as the future of Canada’s economy, you don’t have to look any further than the budget’s title: Growing the Middle Class,” said the prepared remarks of Trudeau’s speech.

“It has long been understood that a strong economy starts with a strong middle class. When middle-class Canadians have more money to save, invest and grow the economy, everyone benefits.”

He was introduced by the group’s vice-president Myron Brilliant who urged Canada’s new Liberal government to take up another of the group’s priorities: adopting the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Trudeau’s prepared remarks did not mention the trade deal, which Canada is reviewing. He planned to participate in a question-and-answer forum after his remarks.

The prime minister was pressed in some less comfortable areas during a question-and-answer session. In the audience were representatives from government and major companies like Google, Amazon, Ford, Coca-Cola and General Electric.

A moderator asked him about the budget deficit. He called it manageable, and said confident countries should use the opportunity of low interest rates to invest in infrastructure.

He was asked whether he’d renegotiate NAFTA, a proposal of some presidential candidates including Donald Trump. Trudeau replied that once a trade deal is opened up for one thing, other irritants pop up immediately.

He was asked about the Keystone XL pipeline and whether he hoped it might be approved by a future president. Trudeau offered a mixed message — saying the project is not led by the government, but every government has a responsibility to get Canada’s resources to market. He suggested that Canada hadn’t done a good job building public confidence in the environmental standards of its oil sector and said he hoped to do better.

Asked about crashing global oil prices, Trudeau said Canada had innovative economic sectors that would pick up the slack. He joked that Silicon Valley had stolen some Canadian computer engineers — and expressed hope that Canada would steal a few back.

He drew applause from the crowd when he was asked a question about the current U.S. election, dominated by talk of Donald Trump. Trudeau said he had faith in the American people, and didn’t mention Trump by name.

The prime minister is making his third visit this month to the U.S. This time the main reason for his visit is a gathering of world leaders attending a summit on nuclear safety.

Trudeau was speaking to a very different Washington audience than the progressive groups he addressed in his last trip to the U.S. capital. The chamber’s political donations and advertisement buys in the current election have almost exclusively gone to Republicans.

After addressing the group, Trudeau will attend a lunch with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and meet with Argentine President Mauricio Macri.

They’ll all be attending the fourth and final nuclear-security summit hosted during the presidency of Barack Obama, who’s made the issue a personal priority.

The leaders will conclude their two-day meeting with a discussion tomorrow analyzing a hypoethical, yet worrying scenario for authorities: terrorists gaining control of a nuclear weapon.

The prime minister also has interviews with American and Canadian media. He told an Edmonton radio station yesterday that the prospect of terrorists with nuclear weapons is terrifying.