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Biden and Trudeau focus meetings on continental security, climate change

Visiting president promised Canada and the U.S. are better as allies
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

President Joe Biden evoked memories of John F. Kennedy and the final frontier in an address to Parliament on Friday that promised Canada and the U.S. are better as allies on everything from renewable energy and advanced manufacturing to global migration and the opioids crisis.

“We’re living in an age of possibilities,” Biden said at the end of a 32-minute speech that was in many ways a Canadianized version of his usual stump speeches at home.

While Biden was specifically referencing plans for the Artemis II joint U.S.-Canadian space mission to the moon next year, back on Earth those possibilities depend heavily on the two countries creating a supply chain that helps them rely more on each other than on far-flung nations they cannot fully trust.

“This is a real shift,” Biden said in a joint news conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“I’ll be darned if I’m going to stick in a situation, as long as I’m president, where we have to rely on a supply chain at the other end of the world that is affected by politics, pandemics, or anything else.”

Trudeau concurred, saying western democracies have long bragged about their model being the most prosperous.

“We sort of turned our back to the fact that it relied on cheap imports of goods or resources from parts of the world that didn’t share our values and weren’t responsible on the environment, or on human rights or on labour standards,” he said.

“What we’re doing right now is showing that we can and will build resilient supply chains between us, and with friends around the world, that adhere every step of the way to the values that we live by.”

The two leaders made multiple announcements to that end following their bilateral meeting Friday, including a new, one-year joint energy transformation task force to hasten the pace of co-operation on critical minerals, batteries and electric vehicle production.

While Canada has concerns about Biden’s penchant for Buy American policies, which often freeze out foreign companies including from Canada, Biden said he does not see how anyone is concerned about protectionism when both countries need what the other has. Canada, he said, has critical minerals the U.S. does not. America can process them.

Critical minerals refers to more than two dozen elements like copper, graphite, lithium and nickel needed to make things like electric-vehicle batteries, solar panels, and semiconductors. Currently China has captured the lion’s share of the critical mineral and battery market, but Canada, the U.S. and other allies want that to change.

Biden’s speech referenced the fact his Inflation Reduction Act “explicitly includes tax credits for electric vehicles assembled in Canada.” He said recognizes “how interconnected our auto industries are, and our workers are.”

Including Canadian-made vehicles was not a given when Biden first put forward the tax credit, requiring a full-court press from Canada’s diplomats in Washington, and several cabinet ministers. Biden’s mention of Canadian vehicles being included in the tax credit pleased the Liberals in Canada immensely.

The leaders are also promising more co-operation to harmonize electric-vehicle charging equipment, partner on nuclear power and work together on regulations to meet their parallel promises for electricity that is 100 per cent greenhouse-gas emissions free by 2035.

Biden’s 27-hour stop in Ottawa, his first official visit to Canada as president, included a one-on-one meeting with Trudeau and an expanded meeting with some members of both their cabinets.

The meetings included discussions about ongoing efforts to modernize the North American Aerospace Defence Command. Biden called Norad “an incredible symbol of the faith we have in each other,” as the only “binational military command in the world.”

They also finalized a long-awaited plan to expand the Safe Third Country Agreement to unofficial ports of entry along the entire Canada-United States border. Canada intends to take in 15,000 more migrants from the Western Hemisphere over the next year.

Both leaders expressed concern about the ongoing security situation in Haiti, where gangs have taken control of much of the country. Biden has previously suggested Canada would be well placed to lead a military intervention in Haiti but put that prospect on the back burner Friday.

“Any decision about military force, what’s often raised, we think would have to be done in consultation with the United Nations and the Haitian government,” he said. “So that is not off the table, but that is not in play at the moment.”

Biden said the “biggest thing” that would help would be getting police departments in Haiti the capacity to respond to the gang issues, but he said that is “going to take time.”

To that end, Trudeau announced $100 million in new funding to help arm the Haitian National Police, and announced Canadian sanctions on two Haitian elites accused of helping empowering gangs, bringing the tally to 19.

Biden and Trudeau also condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine and said China poses a “serious long-term challenge to the international order.”

The spectre of China loomed large over the day, with the presence of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in the visitor’s gallery of the House of Commons.

The two men were imprisoned in China for nearly three years, arrested and charged with various spying offences in apparent retaliation for Canada’s decision to arrest Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 at the request of the U.S. government.

This is the first public appearance for the two since they were released in September 2021, after the U.S. and China reached a deal that led to Meng’s release in Canada.

They received four standing ovations throughout the day.

The two men appeared touched by the applause, looking repeatedly at each other, occasionally waving back at someone down below them on the floor of the chamber.

“Wow,” Spavor said, his eyes wide. Kovrig, standing beside him, looked close to tears.

Trudeau and Biden both paid tribute to the pair in their speeches, with Trudeau crediting the government’s patience not to simply give in to China’s demands, and holding firm to its values.

“The rule of law prevailed and the Michaels came home,” Trudeau said.

Biden, who met with the two men before the speech, noted Canada’s leadership building “a coalition of nearly 70 countries endorsing the declaration against arbitrary detention and state to state relations.”

“Our citizens are not bargaining chips, they’re not diplomatic leverage,” said Biden. “They’re human beings with lives and families that must be respected. And I’m very glad to see the two Michaels … are safely back to their family.”

Biden’s visit to Ottawa came with seas of security but without the hundreds of Canadian fans who flocked to the Hill in 2009 when president Barack Obama visited.

Obama returned to Ottawa in 2016, near the end of his second term, where he also gave a speech in the House of Commons. That was the last time a U.S. president addressed Parliament.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived Thursday night and had a private dinner with Trudeau and his family at their home.

A gala dinner at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum was planned for Friday evening, before the Bidens were set to return to Washington.

—Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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